AJHL Weekend Preview: September 20th-22nd

Let’s start week two in Southern Alberta and home of the National Junior A Champions, the Brooks Bandits. The Bandits step onto the CRA ice for the first time in a regular season game since lifting the ultimate prize of Junior A hockey in Canada. A ceremony will take place before puck drop to unveil the multiple banners from their massively successful 2019 season and to reflect on their historic year. Tasked with handing Brooks their first loss on home ice in the regular season since February 24th, 2018, are the Drumheller Dragons. The Dragons will be hoping to disrupt the party at the Bandits home opener just like Brooks did to them only one week ago. With goals from Jakob Lee (Canisius College), Brayden Krieger and Tim Rego (College of the Holy Cross), the defending AJHL champions picked up a 3-1 victory to kick off their 2019-20 campaign. While the Dragons continue their road trip on Saturday night, the Bandits stay at home as they welcome to the Calgary Canucks who have gotten off to a positive start to begin the season.

The Canucks got their first win of the season one game ahead of last year after they beat the Canmore Eagles 5-3 on home ice this past Wednesday. Jay Thomson was the hero on this occasion stopping 32 of the 35 shots he faced including a penalty shot which he also stopped. Calgary has looked like a completely different team from last through the first three games of the season.  However, before they travel to Brooks, the Canucks have a trip to the mountains booked to face the Eagles in Banff on Friday. Canmore is the last team to start their regular season and will also be calling Banff their home away from home until October. The Eagles should still have a bitter taste in their mouths following the defeat to the Canucks on Wednesday night. With this being the Eagles ?home opener?, Canmore will desperately not want a repeat of their midweek performance. Alex Young (Colgate University) was in quality form in that defeat, however, with two goals and an assist on the night. Young and his team then hit the road on Saturday night to visit the Pason Centennial Arena in Okotoks; a building they have struggled in over the past few seasons.

Okotoks spilt their opening weekend schedule with a 4-1 win over the Canucks on the road which was followed by a 7-6 defeat at the hands of the Dragons. The offence has certainly been there for the Oilers, and they’ll be hoping it continues on Saturday night. Another team that has been flashing the offence through the early part of the season is the Camrose Kodiaks. Cody Laskosky leads them in that department with six goals and eight points in only two games. Those performances from the New Norway, AB, native earned with the first Canalta Hotels Player of the Week award of the season. Okotoks and Camrose collide on Friday night for the Oilers home opener. The two met for the Oilers home opener last season where the Kodiaks spoiled the party thanks to an overtime winner from Damon Zimmer. Then, Camrose will head home for a day off on Saturday, but soon get back in action against the Olds Grizzlys on Sunday afternoon on the road.

Olds fans will see their team in action for the first team on home ice over the weekend with the Dragons in town on Saturday and the Kodiaks on Sunday. The Grizzlys faced off against Camrose on opening night but struggled and fell 5-1 on the road. However, they pulled together the next night to pick up their first win of the year after a 5-4 shootout victory over the Canucks. Overall, a very positive start for a team that is looking the take significant strides following the disappointment of last season.

The Whitecourt Wolverines head into the Sherwood Park Arena on Friday night to faceoff the Crusaders. Whitecourt has taken a point from each of opening their games with all three going to a shootout. Their defence has risen to another level so far, and that?ll have to continue against the high flying Crusaders offence. Through three games, Sherwood Park has fired over 140 shots onto the opposing netminder and scored a division leading 15 goals. On Saturday, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons make their first visit to Sherwood Park since being eliminated by them in the second round last season. Revenge will be in the minds of the returning Barons as they also seek out their second win of the new season.

Both Whitecourt and Fort McMurray challenge the Spruce Grove Saints this weekend. The Saints are too undefeated to start the season. Their offence came alive on Tuesday night when they put six past the Bobcats on the road, despite trailing early. Cam Mitchell (University of Nebraska-Omaha) has got himself off to a great start with five points in the early stages of the year.

The Drayton Valley Thunder have found themselves on the wrong side of three one-goal games to begin their 2019-20 campaign. Their most recent defeat came on Tuesday night by the hands of the Crusaders with the final being 2-1. The other in two games on opening weekend against the Saints. Despite the losses, the Thunder squad should feel confident heading into the weekend against the Bonnyville Pontiacs. The Pontiacs split their weekend series in Whitecourt with each team coming away with a shootout victory. Second year goaltender, Easton Hesse looked sharp in both games coming out with a 1.85 GAA and a 0.934 SV%.  

Finally, the Grande Prairie Storm open their home schedule on Friday and Saturday with the Lloydminster Bobcats as the opponent. The Storm split two games in Fort McMurray last weekend and then completed their three game road trip with a shootout win over the Wolverines on Tuesday. As for the Bobcats, they have struggled to start the season and remain winless.

Story by Liam Horrobin