AJHL Weekend Preview – October 17th, 2014

The third weekend of October action in the Alberta Junior Hockey League doesn’t skimp on the big name match-ups as several teams look to move up or retain their place among the best in the league.

After only coming as north as Spruce Grove in the month of September, the Camrose Kodiaks (10-1-2) will make their first journey into northern Alberta with a Friday night game against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (8-6-2) and a date with the Bonnyville Pontiacs (7-5-2) Saturday at the RJ Lalonde Arena.

The Kodiaks split their season series with the Pontiacs and lost both games to the MOB last year, but are enjoying one of their best starts in recent memory, remaining the top-ranked AJHL team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League weekly rankings.

Goaltender Devin McDonald has been a major force behind that hot start, having lost in regulation only once this year.

Losers of three of their last five games, the Pontiacs’ lone game of the weekend is against the Kodiaks. While the Pontiacs have yet to make their move in a strong North Division, the team’s scoring is taking care of things. In those five games, 10 of their 12 goals have come at even strength.

The Kodiaks’ Friday night opponents, the Oil Barons, are headed in a different direction. After a recent three game road trip provided the team with only two points, the MOB will return to the friendly confines of the Casman Centre this weekend for games against the Kodiaks and Calgary Mustangs (3-10-0).

Captain Jetlan Houcher is riding a ten-game point streak that has seen him pick up eight goals and 15 points in that span. The MOB will also be looking to gain some revenge after the Mustangs dealt them a shootout loss last Sunday in Calgary.

After earning their first home victory of the season, the Mustangs will head out on a northern road trip of their own, tackling the Oil Barons Saturday and the Sherwood Park Crusaders (8-7-1) Sunday afternoon.

The Mustangs last matchup of the weekend will pit them against a Crusaders club that will get a chance to leap into second place in the division this weekend.

Friday night, the Cru will welcome the Lloydminster Bobcats (8-5-1) to the Sherwood Park Arena in the first meeting between the two teams since opening night, when the Bobcats earned a shootout victory in the Border City.

Since then, the Crusaders have held steady with the Bobcats, sitting tied for the third with the club in the North Division. A 4-1 record for the Bobcats in month of October has helped them claw their way back into the picture for the North Division lead.

Shifting from the northern part of the province, the best game of the weekend may actually end up taking place in the southernmost AJHL rink in the province.

The surging Brooks Bandits (8-5-0) will welcome the Spruce Grove Saints (10-3-2) to the Centennial Regional Arena Friday evening. For the past five years, the AJHL’s championship banner has been awarded to the Saints or Bandits, with Friday’s first meeting of the year sure to provide some fireworks.

Following a sluggish start to their season, the Bandits have won four straight, including 7-1 victories in their past two contests. Forward Austin Plevy has been a spark for the Bandits, recording five multi-point games in his last five contests.

It has been business as usual for the Saints, winners of five straight and the clear leaders of the North Division. The Saints have done all this with a scoring-by-committee approach, with only two players in the top 20 in scoring for the league.

Surprisingly, Friday’s game between the Saints and Bandits will pit the two worst power plays against each other.

The Saints will have to recover quickly for a Saturday night match up against the Okotoks Oilers (9-5-2). Just like last year, the Oilers have used a sweep at the AJHL Showcase to turn around their fortunes.

Since winning a pair of game at the showcase, the Oilers are 6-1, with four of those victories coming by a single goal.

The Grande Prairie Storm (5-10-0) will make the same stops at the Saints this weekend, visiting Okotoks Friday and Brooks Saturday before adding on a stop against the Drumheller Dragons (7-3-3) Sunday afternoon.

While the team’s fortunes may look bleak at this point in the season, Jade McMullen has done his best to turn that around, recording three goals and six points in his past five games.

Coming off their most lopsided loss of the season, a 7-1 shellacking at the hands of the Bandits last Saturday, the Dragons will try to reverse their fortunes at home, where the team is 4-1 this season.

Before the Dragons host the aforementioned Storm Sunday, the Canmore Eagles (7-6-0) will pay a visit to town Friday evening. Canmore won the opening game of the season series at the end of September, pulling out a 2-1 overtime victory.

Things have changed since then though, with Dragons leading scorer Mitchell Cook registering two goals and five points in the four games since.

Following their date with the Dragons, the Eagles will continue their tour of central Alberta Saturday against the Olds Grizzlys (9-5-1).

Heading into the weekend, the Grizzlys will be looking to continue their offensive spark that they found up north last weekend and leave the defensive lapses behind. With 8-6 and 9-6 victories in their pockets, the Grizzlys have now won three straight and only sit three points behind the Kodiaks for the division lead.

Before the Grizzlys and Eagles can renew hostilities, the Grizzlys will take on the Calgary Canucks (6-7-2) Friday evening at the Max Bell Centre.

Although it was less than two weeks ago, it may as well feel like an eternity to the Canucks since their last regulation victory. Despite averaging a healthy 2.71 goals per game in the month of October, the Canucks have earned just seven out of a possible 14 points this month, leaving them second-last in the South Division.

Pride and an important two points will be on the line Friday night when the Drayton Valley Thunder (6-5-1) host the Whitecourt Wolverines (3-10-2). Despite the presence of w’s in their name, the Wolverines have lost five straight.

To make matters worse, when the Wolverines scored a season-high six goals against the Grizzlys, they gave up nine to lose the game, earning no reward for their best offensive result of the season.

Friday’s game is the second in a four game home-stand for the Thunder, who lost the opener to the Oilers last Sunday. Despite a five-goal outburst to open the month, the Thunder have been held to two goals or fewer in the the three games since.

Robert Murray