There is still a lot of hockey left to be played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League season. And just past the first quarter mark, things at the top of each division have usual suspects, but separation hasn't happened. With still 40 or more games to be played by every team, that leaves a lot of points out there to grab to move up the standings.
Whitecourt has two dances with the Spruce Grove Saints this weekend. The home-and-home with the top team in the AJHL starts in Whitecourt Friday night and it could be a chance for the Wolverines to maintain their spot in the top four in the North Division, as Sherwood Park, who is one point behind, has only one tilt this weekend with Bonnyville, which means any points the Wolverines can pull off the Saints brings them that much closer to the Pontiacs in the North, and puts some separation between themselves and the Crusaders.
And any time you can put any separation between yourself and the team chancing you, especially in the North Division, you grab it. Six points is all Sherwood Park needs to catch the Pontiacs, and Whitecourt is right in the middle. Their eyes are still on the top leaders in the division, but small baby steps at a time for these three teams. With all positive goal differentials and each team either currently in, or coming off, a respectable winning streak, it's giving the Saints and the Lloydminster Bobcats a little something to think about should they ever feel like taking a couple nights off.
Only four points heading into this weekend separates Bonnyville from Lloydminster, but the three games the Bobcats have on the Pontiacs may leave a door open for a little space between the two.
Lloydminster, though, is aiming for the top of the division this weekend. With two games against the Grande Prairie Storm, who have just six points in 17 games, the Bobcats could leap into first if they get a little help from the Wolverines. If not, they remain two points back with a game in hand, leaving plenty of time to still reclaim the first place spot in the division.
And don't forget about Drayton Valley, who have two games with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and could reassert themselves into the edge of the pack of teams in the middle of the division.
In the South Division, seven points is the difference between first and sixth. Canmore will look to win their 10th of the season on Friday against Olds, and considering they have a minus-12 goal differential, being two points back of Okotoks at this point in the season is a gift. It can't last forever, and giving up that many goals per game doesn't provide success.
But they are getting help from above, as the Oilers have dropped their last four games, allowing the Eagles an opportunity to stay in the hunt. And with Drumheller also in the mix, just four points back of the eagles, there is plenty of movement to happen in the South Division this weekend. The Dragons have two games this weekend, against the Oilers on Friday and Olds on Saturday, so it could be a jump from sixth to third, with a top two spot just a point or two away.
Welcome to middle season hockey, where it is a mess to look at. But the best horses in the race don't begin to pull away until the back stretch, which is coming up here shortly. So anyone in the middle better make a move, or by the home stretch drive, they will be laying in the dust.
by Andrew Brethauer