Six points isn't a lot of space. It can collapse in a bad weekend. It's how close the middle of the pack is in both divisions in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. North or South, third to seventh is that very small margin, and while the calendar is just changing into November this weekend, the season is a third of the way through. And it isn't the time of season for the gap to widen any further.
The Calgary Canucks and Whitecourt Wolverines are the ones looking up in their respected divisions from the seventh position. They hold a post-season spot for now, but a good stretch can take them away from the danger line.
Losers of their last three, earning only a single point in an overtime loss, Calgary has only once chance this weekend to make up some ground in the South Division. After starting the month of October with two victories, the Canucks have only won twice, and their Friday meeting with the Brooks Bandits, who are on a three game winning streak of their own, might not be the welcomed ending to the month the Canucks have been looking for. With the Bandits hosting both Calgary teams this weekend, they can increase their separation from the bottom of the division, while aiming to put some space between themselves and Drumheller Dragons.
Whitecourt, on the other hand, is moving in a different direction. Their still seventh in the North Division, but are riding a current three game winning streak. In fact the Wolverines have picked up nine points out of a possible 10 in their last give games, Brandon Switzer is on his own five game point streak, having scored seven points in that span. The Wolverines are hosting some streaking South Division opponents this weekend, as Okotoks brings their own three game winning streak to the Scott Safety Centre on Friday, while the Drumheller Dragons, currently on a two game streak, come in on Saturday.
Room to grow
With 23 points, the Lloydminster Bobcats, Brooks Bandits and Drumheller Dragons are sitting as pretty as they can be in third place. Brooks has the slight advantage on the Dragons, but with both having played only 17 games, and the Okotoks Oilers in top spot with 29 points after 21 games, a loaded weekend for both is the perfect chance to aim for the top spot.
Drumheller has the busiest schedule of the weekend, starting far north against Grande Prairie on Friday night before making stops in Whitecourt and Drayton Valley over the weekend. They will end the weekend still with four games in hand on the Oilers, who have three stops themselves over the weekend, but with arguable, winnable match ups, the gap between the Dragons and Oilers could start to close.
Brooks hosts both Calgary teams on Friday and Saturday, two teams that have lost their last combined five games. The Bandits have the league's best scoring forwards in Austin Plevy and Alex Roberts who are one-two in league scoring, with Plevy riding a nine game point streak heading into the weekend. It's the perfect opportunity to the Bandits to play catch up with the Oilers, while still holding games in hand in the division.
Lloydminster is also in a similar situation, trailing Spruce Grove by nine points in the North Division. The Bobcats have two games in hand on the Saints and have two games on the schedule this weekend when they welcome Drayton Valley on Friday night and travel up to Bonnyville on Saturday. The Saints, meanwhile, have back-to-back games in Fort McMurray, so it is a win-win for the Bobcats who can either make some ground or have more separation from their rivals in Fort McMurray.
Fort McMurray will end October and Start November against the Spruce Grove Saints. The Friday-Saturday double-dip may not be how the Oil Barons want to end a month that they clearly wish to put behind them. With only two wins in 10 games through October, there would be no better way to end a less than stellar month against the North Divisions top team.
Despite the lowest amount of wins in the league, the Calgary Mustangs have earned five of their 11 points in their last four games. With two victories and a overtime loss, the Mustangs will still have some work to do after this weekend to get out of the cellar in the South Division, as they meet Olds on Friday night before a trip to Brooks on Saturday.
Sherwood Park may enter their only game on Sunday in third place should the Lloydminster Bobcats pick up a single point in any of their two games. The Crusaders won four straight before dropping their last two, and it's put them in the front of the cluster of teams just six points behind heading into the weekend.
by Andrew Brethauer