Photo - Chad Goddard:
After the first round of the Inter Pipeline AJHL Playoffs, the top four seeds in the South still remain. Over the next week and change, that number will be slashed in half. Here are your AJHL South Division Semi-Final Matchups.
(1) Okotoks Oilers 106 points VS (4) Camrose Kodiaks 60 points
Okotoks vs Camrose this season:
Top Scorers vs Camrose (G-A-Pts): Tanner Laderoute (4-4-8), Dylan Holloway (2-2-4), Austin Wong (1-3-4)
Why the Okotoks Oilers can win: The Oilers went through the AJHL like a hot knife through butter over the last third of the AJHL regular season, setting a league record with a 24-game win streak. Since they earned a first round bye when they clinched the South Division, they are still on that win streak and haven’t lost a game since December 29th, 2017. Okotoks also went undefeated in all six games against the Kodiaks this season, including three times during their unprecedented win streak. In those victories the Oilers also shut out the Kodiak’s leading scorer Brock Bremer, who had zero points in the season series. To say Head Coach Tyler Deis has a quality group is now a gross understatement and if Okotoks plays like they have for the last two and a half months they’ll be making a trip to the South Division Final.
Camrose vs Okotoks this season:
Top Scorers vs Okotoks: Kyler Kupka (3-1-4), Ryan Hartman (1-2-3)
Why the Camrose Kodiaks can win: It’s almost been a tale of two seasons for the Camrose Kodiaks, but the latter half has certainly been more Jekyll than Hyde. The Kodiaks went 12-8-4 since January 1st to climb out of the bottom half of the South Division and gain home ice advantage in the first round over the Calgary Mustangs, who they dispatched in three straight games. The Kodiaks led the AJHL this season in losses after regulation with 12, including four of six in the shootout, which is indicative of a team stronger than what the record dictates. The Kodiaks lost every game against the Oilers this year, but did take them to extra time at home and on the road and shut down the Okotoks power play. Herb Brooks said 'great moments are born from great opportunities' and while a Camrose series victory might not be a miracle on ice, it would certainly be a great moment earned with a tremendous effort from Head Coach Boris Rybalka’s group.
(2) Brooks Bandits 91 points VS (3) Drumheller Dragons 71 points
Brooks vs Drumheller this season:
Top Scorers vs Drumheller: Conner Jean (4-4-8), Dennis Cesana (1-4-5), Nic Hamre (1-5-6)
Why the Brooks Bandits can win: The defending AJHL Champions may not have had the benefit of a first round bye this year, but they’re certainly rolling along at the usual Brooks Bandits pace we’ve come to perennially expect. A rare first round appearance against the Canmore Eagles was decided in emphatic fashion, with the Bandits outscoring the Eagles 15-1 and shutting them out in the last two games of a three game sweep. Brooks is deep, experienced and battle hardened - just ask the Canmore Eagles- and will be a tough out no matter the opponent. Head Coach Ryan Papaionnaou’s Bandits had a great track record of success against the Dragons this year and were able to earn those points in close, hard fought games.
Drumheller vs. Brooks this season:
Top scorers vs Brooks: Jordan Taupert (3-1-4), Tyler Kreklewich (1-7-8), Joren Patenaude (2-1-3)
Why the Drumheller Dragons can win: In life, work and sport success is often measured with one question: “What have you done lately?”. Sure, the Dragons lost five of six meetings against the Bandits this season - but they won the last one. The Dragons closed out their regular season with a 3-2 victory over the Bandits on March 3rd and parlayed that into a strong first round playoff series against the Calgary Canucks, scoring 24 times and taking the series three games to one. Sure, the Dragons penalty kill wasn’t very good against the Bandits this year, but they’ve killed off six straight Brooks man advantages and six of the last seven in the last three meetings. Couple that with a destructive power play against Brooks this year, and Head Coach Kevin Hasselberg’s first year behind the Dragons bench could very well continue into the AJHL South Division Final.
-Tom Strangward @TheOneNDTom