AJHL Weekend Preview – October 2nd, 2014

The action in the Alberta Junior Hockey League heats up this weekend as teams enter the second month of the season following the 2014 Surge Energy AJHL Showcase in Spruce Grove.

The Camrose Kodiaks (8-1-0), who have surged to the top of the AJHL standings thanks to a five-game winning streak, will put that run on the line Friday against the Brooks Bandits (4-4-0) and potentially again Saturday against the Drumheller Dragons (6-1-2).

The Kodiaks may play within the comfy confines of the Edgeworth Centre, but through nine games, it appears as though they prefer to be nowhere near it. The South Division leaders won all five road games they played in September, and took a pair of games against the Spruce Grove Saints (5-3-2) to close out the month.

The Kodiaks’ Friday night opponents, the Bandits, have stumbled recently, losing three of their last four games including a 2-1 loss to the Calgary Canucks (4-5-0) Wednesday night.

After Friday’s game in Camrose, the Bandits head home to play six of their next seven games at home, which begins with a Saturday date against the Canmore Eagles (4-4-0).

Despite a two-game losing streak, the Dragons still sit in second place in the South Division, three points clear of the Olds Grizzlys (5-4-1), their Friday night opponent before the Saturday matchup against the Kodiaks.

Even with their slight slip, the Dragons have kept rolling on the power play. Through their last five games, the club is five-for-23 on the man-advantage after starting the season three-for-20.

The South Division won’t be hogging all the stellar match-ups this weekend, as the top two North Division squads from last year will clash for the first time in the 2014-15 season this weekend.

Under the helm of new head coach Curtis Hunt, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (7-3-0) are riding high as the top team in the North Division.

Friday’s matchup won’t come easy though as they’ll be handed a strong test in the Spruce Grove Saints (5-3-2), the team that shocked them in the 2014 AJHL Gas Drive Cup North Division Final.

The MOB didn’t suffer a regulation defeat to the Saints last season until the playoffs, when the Saints engineered a comeback after being down 3-1 in the series before capturing their latest AJHL Championship.

Both teams have gone through some early-season struggles thanks in large part to the roster overhaul each team experienced after last season. The month of October begins another road-heavy month for the MOB as they’ll play seven of their 11 games on the road.

The MOB will wrap-up the weekend Saturday with their first game of the season against the Whitecourt Wolverines (2-7-0).

The Saints will make their continue their road trip into southern Alberta Saturday with a contest against the Grizzlys at the Olds Sportsplex.

The Grizzlys have gone through an up and down start to the season. After seizing control of the South Division lead midway through September, the club dropped three of their next five games to fall to third in the division. While Olds’ power-play is clicking, having scored the most goals in the league with the extra man, the team has also struggled when short-handed, giving up 11 goals through their first month of play.

On the heels of the Oil Barons are the Sherwood Park Crusaders (6-3-1), who will travel south to meet the Eagles Friday night and Okotoks Oilers (4-4-2) Saturday night.

The Cru have scored 19 of their 30 goals on the season in their past five games, which included a shutout loss to the Bandits last Friday at the Tri Leasure Centre. After recording a single assist in his first six games of the season, Cru forward Arthur Gordon has one goal and seven points in his last four contests.

Following three straight wins on the road, the Oilers will look to continue their ascent up the standings when they host the Cru Saturday night. Goaltender Nic Renyard has played a large role in the team’s success, winning those three games and posting a 1.33 goals against average and .953 save percentage over those games.

Forwards Rhett Gardner and Mitch Collett each have three game point-streaks over that stretch.

The Bonnyville Pontiacs (5-2-2) are another team looking to take a hot streak from September into October as they head to the Omniplex to take on the Drayton Valley Thunder (4-3-1) in a weekend double-header. Since losing 6-4 to the Grande Prairie Storm (3-6-0) in their second game of the season, the Pontiacs have lost in regulation once, going 4-1-2 over that stretch.

Following a horrific 1-3-1 start, the Thunder have reeled off three-straight victories to end the month, pushing them into the middle of the North Division. The Thunder have done all this on the back of the worst offence in the North, scoring only 18 goals through eight games.

The team with the worst offence in the South Division, the Calgary Mustangs (2-7-0), will enjoy a weekend off, having maintained their position in the basement while fellow basement-dwellers, the Canucks and Oilers, have risen slightly.

The Mustangs’ losing streak was stretched to four games Tuesday at home against the Oilers and the team has failed to score since the first period of their 4-1 loss to the Crusaders Sept. 25. The

On the upswing are their crosstown rivals the Canucks. A surprising 2-1 win over the Bandits Wednesday night at home gave the Canucks a good start to the month of October. Goaltender Colin Cooper picked up his second win in a row, stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced.

While the Canucks aren’t in the basement, they aren’t out of the thick of things yet. The Canucks, Eagles and Bandits sit tied for fifth place in the division with eight points each.

The Eagles will look to break out of that three-way tie this weekend when they host the Cru and take to the road against the Bandits. Since scoring a minimum of four goals a game in their first five contests, the club has stalled offensively, scoring three goals total in their past three contests.

Speaking of surging offences struggling to find their game, the Whitecourt Wolverines. owners of the fourth best offence in the North Division, will look to put themselves back in the win column when they take on the Oil Barons Saturday night.

The Wolverines have lost four in a row and haven’t tasted victory since Sept. 17 against the Crusaders.

Within striking distance for the Wolverines are the Grande Prairie Storm (3-6-0), who have also lost four in a row. The weekend will be an important one for the Storm as they host the Lloydminster Bobcats (4-4-1) for a pair of games.

The Storm won the opening game of the season series between the two clubs by a 5-3 score Sept. 19 in the Border City. This weekend, the Storm will be looking to cut down on a goal differential that ranks as the worst in the North Division and the second-worst in the entire league.

Rookie Troy Van Tetering leads the Bobcats’ squad in scoring with two goals and eight points. Forward Bryce Woodward eclipsed his goal total from last season by scoring a hat trick against the Bandits Saturday night in Spruce Grove.

The Bobcats and Thunder remain in a dead-heat for sole-possession of sixth place in the division.

Robert Murray