AJHL Weekend Preview: September 20-23

Photo Credit – Chad Goddard:

After only one weekend in the AJHL 2018/2019 Regular Season there are plenty of storylines- upsets, surprises and breakouts have certainly been teased with five teams still undefeated while six others are searching for their first victories of the year.

Tonight, the second weekend of the season will begin with the undefeated Drayton Valley Thunder (2-0-0) visiting the winless Whitecourt Wolverines (0-2-0) with puck drop at 7:30 PM.  The season’s start is a big boost to a Drayton Valley squad which failed to make the post-season last year, while the Wolverines will look to avoid an uncharacteristic 0-3 start at home after starting the campaign off with two narrow losses at home to the Bonnyville Pointacs.  The Thunder and Wolverines will only entertain each other this weekend, as they’ll both have two days off before a rematch in Drayton Valley on Sunday afternoon.

Friday night might as well be rivalry night in the AJHL, with a full slate of divisional games set to provide some early season intensity.  Staying in the North Division, this includes the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (2-0-0) double dipping in the Border City as they will face the Lloydminster Bobcats (0-2-0) on Friday and Saturday night.  The Oil Barons used home ice to springboard to their first two wins of the season while the Bobcats were handed two straight losses by the Spruce Grove Saints in a season opening home and home while only tickling the twine three times.  While Lloydminster is solely focused on Fort McMurray for the weekend, the Oil Barons will make a pit stop on the highway home to face the Bonnyville Pontiacs (2-1-0) for a matinee matchup on Sunday.  With three games in three days, the Oil Barons are the busiest team of the weekend.

There’s also marquee matchups to be had in the South Division on Friday night, with an early season revenge tilt between the Brooks Bandits (1-1-0) and the Drumheller Dragons (2-1-0).  One of the top ranked Junior A teams in the country before the season started, the Bandits were buried by the Dragons on opening night 11-3.  They bounced back against the Canucks and now have an opportunity to make a statement in front of their home crowd a week after the tough loss.  Brooks will stay at home through the weekend, and will roll out the welcome mat for the Camrose Kodiaks (0-3-0) on Saturday.  From Brooks, the Dragons will add some miles on their bus to Okotoks to face the defending South Division Champion Okotoks Oilers (2-0-0).  Heading into the weekend, both teams are averaging over six goals per game so get the sombreros ready for a potential goal fiesta.  The Oilers won’t be going into their game against the Dragons cold, as they’ll be coming off a home matchup with the Kodiaks on Friday night. 

Another South team looking for their first win of the year will have to try for the points on the road, as the Olds Grizzlys (0-2-0) pack their bags for Calgary against the Canucks (0-3-0) on Friday before heading up north to face the Sherwood Park Crusaders (1-1-1) on Sunday.  Something has to give in Calgary on Friday as either the Grizzlys or Canucks will pick up their first win of the season.  For the Canucks, it’s their only game of the weekend.  Calgary’s other AJHL squad, the South-leading Calgary Mustangs (3-0-0) also only have a single opponent this weekend as they welcome the Canmore Eagles (2-1-0) for the second Sunday in a row.  The teams combined for 10 goals and four lead changes at Father David Bauer last weekend. 

Back in the North, the undefeated defending AJHL Champion Spruce Grove Saints (3-0-0) will look to stay that way as they make the trek to Grande Prairie to take on a winless Storm team (0-1-1) that was a shot away from splitting a season opening set with the Oil Barons.  Grande Prairie was remarkably good at home last season, picking up 18 of their 28 wins at Revolution Arena, while the Saints had the best road record in the North. 

Finally, the Sherwood Park Crusaders will look for their second straight victory over the Bonnyville Pontiacs (2-1-0) when the clubs close out a home-and-home set in Bonnyville on Friday night.  The Crusaders and Pontiacs will both have Saturday off to return home, with the ‘Yaks hosting the Oil Barons and the Crusaders facing the Grizzlys on Sunday to close out the weekend.  The Grizzlys matchup in Sherwood Park is the lone inter-divisional game of the weekend.