South Division Preview – Division Semi-Finals

Canmore Eagles (4) vs Brooks Bandits (1)

By the time the puck drops for this second round series, the Brooks Bandits won't have played a game in 13 days. For the Canmore Eagles, they better hope a little rust formed during that two week rest, as the Bandits finally get started in the Gas Drive Playoffs after earning a first round bye as the South Division's top seed.

Brooks was by far the most offensively gifted team during the regular season, scoring a league high 306 goals for, 43 goals more than the Spruce Grove Saints, and more importantly, 101 goals more than the Eagles scored this season. The stark goal differential between the two teams, +175 for Brooks, -35 for Canmore, is a healthy reminder that the Bandits are able to win on all fronts.

The oddity is, Canmore's Matt Forchuk and Logan Ferguson each had 72 points through 57 games, two more points than any Brooks player had in the regular season. But where Brooks' numbers come into play is their sheer depth of scoring, as while Canmore had four players with 50 or more points, the Bandits had eight, with four more players four or less points shy of joining the 50-club.

The advantage would also fall in Brooks' favour in goaltending, as Josh Davies 31 victories in 39 games was the most in the league, while his 2.18 goals against average was the best amongst regularly starting goalies. Canmore's Ryan Bontorin had 17 wins and 41 starts, and posted a 3.77 goals against this year.

Brooks even took the season series 5-1, their only loss coming in overtime back in late October. Add in the Bandits were the best team on home ice this year, winning 27 of 30 games, it's hard to knock a return run to at least the division final for the Bandits.

Canmore may have lost Game 1 in the first round to Drumheller, but they rebounded with three straight wins, scoring five or more goals in each victory, showing they can scoring in bunches when needed. They had the best power play in the league this season at 25.47%, though it could be their penalty kill that defines them, as they were the fourth worst team with a 75.6% average, while Brooks had the fourth best power play in the league.

Okotoks Oilers (3) vs Camrose Kodiaks (2)

A 13 point gap is something you would expect to see between the second place and fifth place team, not the second and third, but that is the difference between the Camrose Kodiaks and the Okotoks Oilers.

Camrose had second wrapped up early during the regular season, and were one of only three teams in the South Division to have a winning record at the end of the year. Okotoks, who also had a winning record, was back in third, but had the advantage in the season series with the team in front of them in the standings, defeating the Kodiaks four of six times, which included two shutouts.

Cole McBride, the current leader in points through the playoffs with eight points, also led the Kodiaks during the regular season with 32 goals and 66 points, while teammate Nelson Gadoury also had 66 points, and Mackenzie Bauer had 61.

Okotoks didn't have a player in the 60 point range, with Matt McNair one point shy at seasons ends. They seem to rely on the committee approach to scoring in the playoffs, with six players having three points or more.

Both teams allowed just five goals in the opening round, with Kodiaks netminder Patrick Gora and Oilers goalie Riley Morris sporting the same 1.67 goals against average and near identical save percentages through the opening round of the playoffs. Call it a goalies duel in the second round, as both teams were fairly close during the regular season in the amount of goals crossing their goal line.

The difference came in production on offence, as Camrose was fourth best in the league this year at filling the back of the net, while Okotoks' 197 goals for put them in the middle of the league in total goals.

Okotoks did use the power play to their advantage in the opening round, scoring six times on 18 attempts, the best in the league, while the Kodiaks gave up three goals on 14 power plays. Special teams means more in the playoffs, so for the Kodiaks, it may be about limiting the amount of trips to the penalty box, as the most penalized team in the league could eventually get caught by a hot power play unit.

by Andrew Brethauer