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With each weekend that passes, the AJHL’s post season gets closer and closer making each game from now until the end of the season vital for all 16 teams. Whether they’re fighting for the number one seed, home ice advantage, or a spot in the playoffs, these last 15 games are going to have a lot of meaning and will be highly entertaining.
For the Sherwood Park Crusaders, a pair of wins this weekend would go a long way as they look to get back to winning ways and lock down the number one seed in the Viterra North Division. In their previous four games, the Crusaders have been on their worst run of the regular season, losing three out of four games including a 5-2 loss on Wednesday night versus the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Despite this bad run of form, they still sit first in Viterra North Division one point ahead of the Pontiacs. On Saturday, the Crusaders are back on home ice for the first time in two weeks when the Fort McMurray Oil Barons are in town. The Oil Barons and Crusaders season series has been highly competitive with three of their four games being separated by one goal including one game which went to a shootout. A fun fact about this series, despite losing three of the four games, the Oil Barons have outscored the Crusaders 15 to 14. On Sunday, the Crusaders close out their weekend against a South Division opponent in the Drumheller Dragons who’ll make their lone visit to the Sherwood Park Arena. These two have met already once this season when the Crusaders beat the Dragons 4-1 and were just over a minute away from shutting them out at the Drumheller Memorial Arena. Recently, the Dragons have been on an unfortunate run themselves losing three of their last four by just one goal. Luckily for them, they’ve been able to pick up a point in two of those losses with the pair of them going to overtime.
Before their trip to Sherwood Park, the Dragons will be on home ice on Friday night when the Canmore Eagles travel to Dinosaur Country. Only five points separate the two of them in the Viterra South Division with the Dragons holding the advantage sitting in third (Eagles are fifth). However, the Eagles do have a game in hand right now which could prove vital to their playoff seedings either with a win or loss. Results wise, this series looks very much one sided with the Dragons defeating the Eagles on all three occasions this season. Despite that, two of the game have gone to the extra frame, and the goals are tied at 17 a piece. Canmore will then move on from this game to a Saturday night affair against the Olds Grizzlys at the Canmore Recreation Centre. The Grizzlys are in desperate need of a victory as they look to close the gap on the Calgary Canucks for the final playoff spot in the South Division. They’ll get their chance to take points away from the Canucks on Sunday on home ice. Two of the Grizzlys four wins have come against the Canucks this season so the belief in the Grizzly Den should be high for that contest. As for the Canucks, they’re coming off a fantastic midweek victory over the Canmore Eagles in which they defeated them 8-3 for only their seventh win of the season and separating themselves a little more from the Grizzlys. On Friday night, Calgary kicks off their weekend with a home game against the Okotoks Oilers who have been on fire recently. Okotoks has lost just once in 2019 and is currently riding a seven-game win streak which includes wins over the likes of Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, and Drumheller. The only team in better form than the Oilers are the Brooks Bandits who are undefeated in their last 17 games. On Sunday, Okotoks then returns to Calgary for an afternoon game at the Father David Bauer against the Calgary Mustangs. This will be the Mustangs only game this weekend as they look to hold onto the fourth seed in the south and that final home-ice advantage spot for the first round.
Moving back up north and to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons - before a trip to the Sherwood Park Arena on Saturday night, they start their week at the Grant Fuhr Arena to take on the reigning AJHL Champions, the Spruce Grove Saints. These two are in a small battle of their own as the Barons are attempting to close the gap on the Saints in third place. Right now, the Saints hold a six-point lead over the Barons in fourth with two games in hand, however, two points for Fort McMurray on Friday could provide fans with an exciting finish down the stretch. Saturday night will be a critical game for the Saints as they play the Bonnyville Pontiacs on home ice. If they want any chance of catching up to the top two teams in the north - Sherwood Park and Bonnyville - a win on Saturday is a must. The Pontiacs will be coming into the weekend confident after a convincing win midweek over the Sherwood Park Crusaders. They have their hands full on Friday night, too, when they travel to challenge the Drayton Valley Thunder who also won midweek. The Thunder have been an exciting team to watch even though their results have been mixed as they have struggled to find consistency. Now only five points out of fourth place in the North, they’ll be in search of a big victory over the Pontiacs in their lone game of the weekend. Also, congratulations to Thunder defenceman Jesse Pomeroy who announced via Twitter that he has committed to Niagara University.
The final two North Division teams in action this weekend are the Grande Prairie Storm and Whitecourt Wolverines. Both teams face-off against the same opponents with the Brooks Bandits and Camrose Kodiaks travelling north. Firstly, the Bandits make the long trip to Northern Alberta on Friday night to face the Storm for the final time this season. In their previous meeting, Grande Prairie gave the Bandits a run for their money on home ice pushing them to overtime and falling just a couple of minutes short of taking it to a shootout. The Storm is the only team to leave Brooks with a point this season. The next night, Grande Prairie is on the ice again with the Kodiaks rolling into the Revolution Arena. The Kodiaks have been a little inconsistent recently and have struggled to find much rhythm. Despite their team struggles, Cody Laskosky, Erik Miller, and Kyler Kupka have combined for 15 points in their last three games. Camrose will be hoping the rest of their team can follow in the trio's footsteps as they look to climb the standings. As mentioned, those two travelling south teams do also take on the Wolverines after they travel to Grande Prairie. Brooks will be at the Scott Safety Centre on Saturday night in a repeat of the 2017 AJHL Finals, and the Kodiaks are in Whitecourt on Sunday afternoon.
Story by Liam Horrobin