AJHL Weekend Preview – September 11th, 2014

Bragging rights and some crucial early season points in intra-divisional match-ups highlight the second weekend of play for the 2014-15 Alberta Junior Hockey League season.

The Battle of Edmonton continues this weekend as the Sherwood Park Crusaders (0-1-1) and Spruce Grove Saints (1-1-0) play a home-and-home starting Friday evening at the Sherwood Park Arena.

Friday’s meeting will be the first between the Saints and Cru since the two teams clashed in an epic seven-game playoff series last March. That series didn’t see a team win a game inside their own arena until the Saints took game seven at the Grant Fuhr Arena before going onto win the AJHL Championship.

Following a 2-1 shootout victory in Lloydminster Wednesday night, the league-leading Fort McMurray Oil Barons (3-0-0) continue their tour of teams featuring former MOB head coaches when they take on Kevin Higo and the Grande Prairie Storm (1-1-0) at Revolution Arena.

MOB captain Jetlan Houcher has provided the offensive spark for the team through their first three games, scoring in each contest. The MOB have also benefitted from some stellar goaltending as the duo of Jesse Gordichuk and Zach Fortin have stopped 120 of the 122 shots they’ve faced.

With three assists in two games, Storm forward Ben Assad has the early team points lead.

The Drumheller Dragons (1-0-0) will look to continue their reign over teams from Calgary when they host the Calgary Mustangs (0-1-0) Friday night. The Dragons began defence of their South Division crown last weekend, shutting out the Canucks by a 3-0 score in Calgary.

After playing a single game last weekend, a 6-3 loss to their crosstown rival Canucks, the Mustangs will have a busy weekend at home and on the road. Following their trip to Drumheller, they’ll return home Saturday to host the Camrose Kodiaks (1-0-0) in their home opener.

The Kodiaks won last year’s season series with the Mustangs, taking four of the six games between the two teams. Kodiaks forward Nelson Gadoury notched a hat trick in his team’s season-opening victory on the road in Olds last weekend.

The Calgary Canucks (1-1-0) host the Whitecourt Wolverines (1-1-0) in their only game of the weekend. It has been a case of feast or famine for the Canucks in their first two games of the season. They scored six goals against the Mustangs in a win on opening night but failed to produce any offence the following night against Drumheller in a 3-0 shutout.

The Wolverines split a pair of one-goal decisions against the Saints last weekend. Whitecourt forward John Mullally made an early impression in his first two AJHL games, scoring the game winner in Friday’s 4-3 victory before picking up a hat trick the following night inside the Grant Fuhr Arena.

The Wolverines will make an extra stop on their road trip to take on the Canmore Eagles (0-0-0) Saturday night. The Wolverines won all three games against the Eagles last season, though two of those were decided by a single goal. 

The only team beside the Eagles who have yet to begin their AJHL season is the Brooks Bandits (0-0-0), who open their 2014-15 AJHL campaign at home Friday against the Kodiaks before facing the Okotoks Oilers (1-0-0) on the road. Last year’s record of 39-13-8 marked the fourth consecutive season that they finished with at least 35 wins.

The Bandits had no problem with the Kodiaks last year, going 5-1 against them in the regular season, but struggled against the Oilers, winning just one game in the six-game regular season series.

In addition to their game against the Bandits, the Oilers face-off against the Olds Grizzlys (0-1-1) in Okotoks. The Oilers squeaked out a 3-2 overtime victory last weekend at the Olds Sportsplex to take first blood in the season series.

After a rough start to their season at home, the Grizzlys will head out on the road in search of their first victory of the season. Following Friday’s road game in Okotoks, the Grizzlys will head to Canmore to face the Eagles. The Eagles won five of the six games between the two teams last year.

The Lloydminster Bobcats (1-0-1) will make their first road trip of the season through two North Division opponents this weekend, tackling the Drayton Valley Thunder (0-1-1) Friday and Bonnyville Pontiacs (1-1-0) Saturday.

The Bobcats were winless in Drayton Valley last year and won two of the three games in Bonnyville during the season. The Thunder and Bobcats are both coming off of losses to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.

The Thunder are one of six teams in the league who have yet to record a regular season victory.

The Pontiacs split their first two games with the Storm on the road last weekend. Forward Luke Mahura has paced the Pontiacs with two goals in as many games.

Robert Murray