We'll start with the hottest team in the AJHL, and the number one team in the CJHL, the Brooks Bandits. The four-time AJHL champions are heading North in search of wins 14 and 15 when they take on the Drayton Valley Thunder and Spruce Grove Saints. The Bandits and Thunder have collided once already this season at the AJHL’s annual showcase in Camrose. Brooks came out of that contest 3-0 winners. On Saturday, the previous two AJHL champions faceoff at the Grant Fuhr Arena for the first time this season. The Saints are heading into that one following back-to-back wins over the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Whitecourt Wolverines. This game will also feature the league’s number two powerplay (Brooks) versus the number one penalty kill (Spruce Grove). The Saints and Thunder also both host the Calgary Mustangs.
After a great start to the season, the Mustangs have been struggling losing seven straight games and have now fallen to fifth in the South. On Friday, Calgary heads to the Grant Fuhr Arena and will be looking to beat the Saints for the second time this season. Their last encounter ended with Calgary walking away with two points after Ashton Abel made 25 saves to earn a 1-0 victory. As for Saturday night, the game between the Mustangs and the Thunder should be a big one for both teams. The two of them have been going through difficult times and will want to be heading up the standings sooner rather than later. Goaltending could prove to be the difference in this matchup.
The other Calgarian team, the Canucks, are the lone AJHL team with a single game this weekend. Calgary welcome the winless Olds Grizzlys to the Ken Bracko Arena on Saturday night. Both teams are not off to a good start as we reach the quarter mark. Much like the Mustangs and Thunder game, the momentum gained from the game for the winning team could help gain confidence and get themselves up the standings. Before this one, Olds has a home game against the Canmore Eagles for the first time this season.
Canmore then continues their road trip further North to Fort McMurray. The Eagles are another team looking to get back in the win column following back-to-back losses this past weekend to Okotoks and Bonnyville. Themselves and the Oil Barons had a closely contested battle at Showcase which ended in the Eagles being victorious in the shootout. On Friday, before Canmore rolls into town, Okotoks make a trip into Oil Barons territory. The Oilers have been playing great hockey recently winning four out of their last five games. Dylan Holloway has been a big reason for that success with 10 points in his previous five games. With that fantastic stretch of scoring from Holloway, he is now moved into first in the AJHL’s scoring race with 24 points in 14 games. The Oilers road trip continues with trips to Bonnyville and Lloydminster as they look to climb back to the top of the South Division.
The Pontiacs and Bobcats both have similar weekends with the Whitecourt Wolverines in town. First up, it will be the Wolverines versus the Pontiacs, and then on Saturday, Whitecourt travels to Lloydminster. While the Pontiacs have been riding high at the top of the North Division, the Wolverines and Bobcats are sitting in sixth and seventh in the division. Lloydminster have one win in their last six games which was a 3-2 overtime victory against the Oil Barons. As for Whitecourt, they too have found themselves in difficult times with only a single win in their last five. Finally, the last two North team’s in action this weekend are the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Grande Prairie Storm. They go one-on-one on Saturday and Sunday at the Revolution Arena in Grande Prairie for their first time since the Storm eliminated the Crusaders from the post-season last year.
Now, heading South, the Drumheller Dragons and Camrose Kodiaks have a home and home series starting on Friday night at the Encana Arena. The Dragons currently sit second in the South, eight points ahead of the Eagles in third. Drumheller has lost once in since September 27th at Showcase against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Their opponents, the Kodiaks, have started to get back into form and are currently riding a three-game win streak. While on that streak, Camrose has played well defensively allowing no more than two goals in each of those games. They are going to need maintain that defensive strategy intact with the Dragons being the third best offence in the AJHL.
Story by Liam Horrobin