Photo Credit - Chad Goddard:
A powerhouse returns to the ice after a first round bye, the defending division champions are looking to repeat, a veteran squad is coming off an emotional series, and a Cinderella is looking for that glass slipper...It’s time for the Viterra AJHL South Division Semi-Finals in the AJHL Playoffs.
(1) Brooks Bandits - 114 points VS (6) Canmore Eagles - 65 points
Bandits vs Eagles Head-to-Head
Why the Brooks Bandits can win: After earning a first round bye with a 57-3 record, an undefeated home record and the most successful season in AJHL history, the National Jr A Championship Hosts begin their playoff run looking to extend the 33 game win streak they ended the season on. The Brooks Bandits scored 334 goals to lead the league this year (80 more than 2nd place Sherwood Park), they allowed a league low 125 goals (16 less than anyone else), were the top ranked team in all of the CJHL and boast four 30-goal players on their roster. After not making the AJHL Finals for the first time since 2014 last season, the Brooks Bandits are poised to become one of the greatest Junior A hockey teams in history.
Why the Canmore Eagles can win: After finishing the regular season in 6th place in the AJHL South, the Canmore Eagles were tasked with a tough first round matchup against the 3rd place Drumheller Dragons and they put on an absolute showcase in a tough series. While no one doubted the Eagles’ ability to score goals, Canmore entered the post season with a goal differential of minus 1. However, you’d never know that after their thrilling 5-game series victory against the Dragons as Canmore won three of the five games which were all decided by a single goal. The Eagles picked up two overtime wins and a gutsy 2-1 winner-take-all victory on the road while their only losses also came in overtime. Sure, the Eagles are up against a Goliath, but in the first round Canmore demonstrated they know how to use a slingshot.
(2) Okotoks Oilers - 80 points VS (4) Camrose Kodiaks - 71 points
Oilers vs Kodiaks Head-to-Head
Why the Okotoks Oilers can win: After avoiding a scare in the first game of their series against the underdog Calgary Canucks, Okotoks used the wave of 3 goals in just over a minute to tie the opening game towards an overtime victory and followed it up with decisive 5-3 and 6-0 decision to move into the second round. What’s even more impressive is this was done without AJHL MVP Dylan Holloway, who missed all three games of the opening series. Kyle Gordon was big in the absence, scoring 4 goals and 6 points against the Canucks while Kaleb Ergang, Seth Bernard-Docker and Marc Pasemko all ended the series at over a point-per-game while four other Oilers were performed at a point-per-game clip. The defending division champions are still one of the best teams in the AJHL and matched up well against the Camrose Kodiaks during the regular season, taking four of the six games and 9 of 12 points.
Why the Camrose Kodiaks can win: The Kodiaks traded lopsided games to open their first round series against the Calgary Mustangs, winning one and then losing another, before grinding out a big OT win in Game 3 despite being outshot 52-29. The Kodiaks would be forced to a winner-take-all Game 5 but would build a big lead and hold off a late Calgary charge to get to the second round once again. What the opening series demonstrated for the Kodiaks is that they can win in a multitude of ways...Capitalize on your chances and win big? - Game One. Bounce back after a big home loss with a strong goaltending performance to win in OT on the road? - Game 3. Rebound after a close, hard fought road loss to build and defend a lead at home? - Game 5. While the Kodiaks only picked up a pair of wins on the year during their regular season series against Okotoks, the playoffs are a different beast. This veteran group can play gritty and well enough to get to the Division Final.