The puck is about to drop for another weekend of AJHL action, and with all teams nearing the quarter-season mark contenders are beginning to emerge in both divisions.
In the AJHL North Division this weekend, four teams will square off against a single opponent on back to back nights. The Spruce Grove Saints (10-3-0) and Sherwood Park Crusaders (9-2-2) are tied for second place in the division and will play a home-and-home against each other. These two games will also be the first time the Edmonton region rivals have faced each other this regular season. The Crusaders have won six in a row (undefeated in October) and have scored at least four goals in all of those victories, while the Saints have won two straight and are 5-1 in October. While they aren’t filling the net quite like the Crusaders, the Saints have allowed a mere 23 goals- five less than the next best team (Bonnyville). Spruce Grove will be the site of the first game on Friday, while Sherwood Park will be the setting on Saturday.
Up Highway 63, the Casman Centre in Fort McMurray will be rocking this weekend as the Oil Barons (6-4-2) welcome the Lloydminster Bobcats (3-7-1) for a pair of games. The Oil Barons are hoping to stay in the mix at the top of the North, as the perennial contenders have picked up just four wins in their last ten games and picked up only a single point during a three-game road trip last weekend. Their opponent finds themselves treading water in the same sea, as the Bobcats are 3-6-1 in their last ten games and are also mired in a three game slump. The Bobcats, who are one of two teams to have only played 11 games, have an opportunity to gel with their weekend stay in Wood Buffalo. When they take the ice on Friday, both teams will be looking for their second win of the month.
In the South, the Brooks Bandits (11-1-0) will host a pair of division rivals who they’ve had a period of success against. Fresh off being ranked the top Junior A squad in the country in the CJHL Weekly Rankings, the Bandits will look to show why when they host the Calgary Mustangs (6-3-2) on Friday. The teams have gone in different directions in October, as since a rough opening night loss the Bandits have reeled off eleven straight wins while the Mustangs have followed up back-to-back shutout wins at the AJHL Showcase with a 0-2-2 run. In October, the Bandits have shown gumption by earning four of their five wins by just a single goal. The Bandits will then welcome the last place Olds Grizzlys (0-12-1) on Saturday. After a pair of one-goal defeats to start the month, the Grizzlys have struggled in both ends of the ice heading into the weekend: in their last four games, Olds has been shutout twice and outscored 30-2.
Like the Bandits, the Camrose Kodiaks (3-8-1) will entertain two divisional opponents beginning with the Battle of the Bears on Friday night when the Grizzlys are in town. With just a single win on home ice this year and falling in their last five games, the Kodiaks look to get their first October victory in front of the home fans. Despite the losing streak, the Kodiaks have been very competitive as three of the losses have been by a single goal, including a 5-4 defeat to the powerhouse Bandits on Tuesday. After a rest on Saturday, the Kodiaks face the Okotoks Oilers (6-5-1) who are playing solid hockey heading into the weekend evidenced by their three game win streak. Through six October matchups, the Oilers are 4-2 and have picked up back-to-back shutout victories.
The North-leading Bonnyville Pontiacs (11-2-0) will look to show off their skill to some seldom seen opponents during a three games. After visiting the Mustangs on Thursday, the Pontiacs will visit the red-hot Okotoks Oilers on Saturday. Bonnyville has scored five goals or more in three straight games and, as aforementioned, the stinginess of the Oilers as of late cannot be understated. The two trends colliding on the ice should be a treat for fans at the Pason Centennial Arena. From Okotoks, the Pontiacs will pay a visit to the high flying Canmore Eagles (7-3-2) in a matchup of two teams with absolutely ridiculous power plays. Bonnyville is clicking at 26% efficiency, while Canmore leads the league with an eye-popping 36.2% conversion rate on the man advantage. Both teams are also the only teams in the AJHL to currently have at least 20 power play goals on the season. The Eagles’ game against the Pontiacs is their only tilt this weekend.
Making their way up north, the Calgary Canucks (2-10-1) and Drumheller Dragons (9-3-0) share identical road trips this weekend as both teams will play the Whitecourt Wolverines (7-6-0), Grande Prairie Storm (7-4-2) and Drayton Valley Thunder (2-11-0). The Canucks begin with the Storm on Friday as the two teams meet for the second time in a week. The Canucks have lost five straight since a gutsy 3-2 road win against Fort McMurray on October 5th, and the most recent of those losses was a narrow 5-4 setback to the Storm. While the Canucks look to weather the Storm in Grande Prairie, the Dragons will look for their seventh straight victory by rolling with the Thunder in Drayton Valley. The Dragons got their recent run started by beating the Thunder 6-3 at the AJHL Showcase last month and will look for a similar result. Meanwhile, the Thunder have been felled since starting the season 2-0 and look to change directions.
On Saturday, the Dragons will visit the Storm while the Canucks shimmy South to face the Wolverines. Whitecourt has lost two straight, but are 6-4-0 in their last ten games and have shaken off a slow start on home ice by winning their last three games at the Scott Safety Centre. Two of those wins also came against South Division opponents (October 5th vs Olds; October 6th vs Mustangs) and those were the last games played at home by Whitecourt. The Wolverines will follow this up against the Dragons on Sunday, while the Canucks road trip wraps up in Drayton Valley.