Photo Credit - Game Ready Photography:
The time has come! Part one of the AJHL season is over, and it’s time for part two to begin. The first round of the post season will see six North teams participate with the Sherwood Park Crusaders getting a bye to the second round and the Lloydminster Bobcats not qualifying. For the first round, its Bonnyville vs Whitecourt, Spruce Grove vs Drayton Valley, and Fort McMurray vs Grande Prairie. With those matchups, we are bound to have an exciting start to the 2019 Playoffs.
#2 Bonnyville (41-15-4) vs #7 Whitecourt (21-37-2)
Bonnyville and Whitecourt collide in the first round best of five series. The regular season between the two has been very one-sided in favour of the Pontiacs who finished with a franchise record 41 wins to finish second in the North Division. Six of those wins came at the dismay of the Wolverines who were unable to pick up a single point against the Pontiacs.
Marc-Antonie Benoit was fantastic for the Pontiacs against his former team throughout their season series collecting 11 points (4 goals, seven assists) including a four-point game on the final game of the season. Between the pipes, Colby Muise and Easton Hesse averaged 1.50 goals against the Wolverines along with a combined 0.926 SV%.
As for the Wolverines, they only managed to get nine goals by the Pontiacs netminders in their six games. Easton Haygarth, however, is one player Bonnyville should be prepared for after scoring five points (three goals, two assists) versus them this season.
With the Pontiacs being the higher seed they’ll have home-ice advantage throughout this series which gets underway tonight at the RJ Lalonde Arena. Game Two goes the following night, then the two teams travel to the Scott Safety Centre for game three on Sunday. If necessary, games four and five take place on Monday and Wednesday.
#3 Spruce Grove (40-17-3) vs #6 Drayton Valley (24-30-6)
The season series has varied from games ending in a shutout to tight games which have gone into extra time and ended in a one-goal contest. However, they all had the same outcome, the Spruce Grove Saints coming away with two points.
Spruce Grove ended the season in strong form winning 11 of their last 13 games with their two losses being only a goal differential. Parker Saretsky was great during that run with 17 points, which helped him finish first in team scoring with 56 points in 57 games. The Thunder will also have trouble getting pucks by Matthew Davis in the Saints net. The University of Denver commit has won his last seven starts while averaging two goals against.
As for the Thunder, they’re heading into the post season with a 3-6-1 record in their previous ten games with their three wins coming against the Lloydminster Bobcats, Whitecourt Wolverines, and Olds Grizzlys. They’ll be looking for Goaltender of the Year Luke Lush to step up between the pipes and rejuvenate new life throughout the lineup.
This series begins at the Grant Fuhr Arena tonight which is followed by some Friday night action. Games three and, potentially, four are in Thunder territory at the Drayton Valley Omniplex before the two go back to Spruce Grove for a vital game five if necessary.
#4 Fort McMurray (32-19-9) vs #5 Grande Prairie (30-26-4)
The Oil Barons took the season series over the Storm 5-1; however, three of those games ended in a one-goal differential with two going to an extra frame. With that being said, we should expect a close series between the fourth and fifth seed in the North Division. The two teams enter the series with plenty of momentum after good results down the final stretch. In their previous ten games, Fort McMurray has 7-2-1 record while Grande Prairie was 6-3-1 with both teams getting a pair of wins over the second-placed Bonnyville Pontiacs in back-to-back games.
Fort McMurray’s star forward, Reed Morison, is heading into this series on a hot streak scoring a point or more in his previous eight games. During that streak, Morison has tallied 11 points to finish third in league scoring with 79 points. Another Baron in good form is Liam Iyzk who is carrying a five-game point streak into the series.
Moving over to the Storm, they’ve got a deadly attack led by Vincent Milot-Ouellet who had 59 points in 55 games and recently earned a scholarship to UQTR of the CIS. Close behind him in team scoring is Zach Okabe (58 points), Zach Webb (57) and Connor Blake (52). That kind of attack can be difficult for any team to contain.
The first two games of this series will be hosted at the Casman Centre before moving to the Revolution Arena for game three and a potential game four.