Photo Credit – Pro Sports Photography:
It’s an extra-long weekend and AJHL hockey fans should be thankful for a schedule so bountiful, you could put it on your table this weekend next to grandma’s stuffing.
The weekend begins with a matchup between the North Division’s top two teams tonight, as the Spruce Grove Saints (6-2-0) will face the Bonnyville Pontiacs (6-1-0) at the RJ Lalonde with the winner earning sole possession of first place in the division. The Pontiacs are riding the wave of a four game win streak and are undefeated at home so far this year, while the Saints look to avoid falling to .500 on the road and perk up their power play, which enters the weekend at just 7.5% efficiency. After the sole holder of first place is decided on Friday, the Pontiacs will close out their weekend by hosting the Drayton Valley Thunder (2-6-0) on Sunday while the Saints return home to host the Calgary Canucks (1-5-1), who will be capping off a three-in-three weekend.
Before heading home from Spruce Grove, the Canucks will start their northern road swing by visiting the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (4-2-1) on Friday night and then heading south to on Highway 63 for a showdown against the Sherwood Park Crusaders (4-2-2) on Saturday. Much like the Canucks, the Drayton Valley Thunder also have a tough three-in-three road trip, albeit through their own division. On Saturday, the Thunder will head east to Saskatchewan border to face the Lloydminster Bobcats (2-4-1) where they’ll look to leap past the ‘Cats into 7th place. On Saturday, the Thunder start the journey north with a pit stop in Bonnyville and will continue on up to Fort McMurray to spend Thanksgiving Monday with the MOB. Both the Canucks and Thunder have a tremendous opportunity to shake off slow starts with statement games against tough competition on the road. The Bobcats’ game against the Thunder is their only game over the long weekend.
Two teams poised to make up some ground in their division this weekend are the Whitecourt Wolverines (4-4-0) and Grande Prairie Storm (3-4-1), who can keep pace with the four teams ahead of them in the standings over a two-game Thanksgiving homestand as they trade South division opponents. On Friday, the Wolverines look to start it off right and snap their two-game skid against the AJHL’s only winless team- the 0-8-0 Olds Grizzlys. While still searching for a win, the Grizzlys are no pushovers as four of their eight losses have been by a single goal and a solid power play. Regardless of what happens on Friday, the Wolverines will also face another South opponent on Saturday when they face the Calgary Mustangs (6-1-0), who are tied for first place in their division. The Mustangs will be coming off a visit in Grande Prairie on Friday. Meanwhile, the Grizzlys will have passed the Mustangs bus after their game against Whitecourt as they will have their shot at the Storm in Grande Prairie on Saturday night. While the Wolverines are looking to snap a losing streak, the Storm are looking to keep the wins coming.
In the South, the Canmore Eagles (5-1-0) will finally play at home for the first time this regular season as they host both of last year’s South Division Final teams. On Friday, Canmore will look to add to the early-season woes of the Okotoks Oilers (2-3-1), who will try to clip the wings of the Eagles and their four game slide. The Eagles’ second home game of the regular season will come the very next night, when the team tied with the Calgary Mustangs for first in the south- the Brooks Bandits (6-1-0)- bustle into town. Heading into the weekend, the Eagles are just two points behind making it a three way tie for first in the South and will want to step right up to the challenge while the Bandits look to avoid a grim goodbye in their first trip to the mountains this year.
The Eagles’ two opponents will meet for a debrief on Monday, as the Oilers and Bandits square off at the CRA on Monday. This is the first meeting between the rivals since their thrilling South Final last season.
And finally- where are your Dragons (4-3-0)? Well on Friday, they’ll be in Drumheller hosting the Camrose Kodiaks (3-4-0) who will look to draw even in the standings with the Dragons with a road victory. After a day off, the Dragons will wing into Okotoks as the Oilers sandwich two Thanksgiving road games against Drumheller at the Pason. The Kodiaks also have an offday on Saturday, but are back on the ice on Sunday when they look to fend off the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
There’s clearly plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.