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AJHL Division Races Shaping Up As Opposites

By Neil Hilts on January 26, 2017

The Fort McMurray Oil Barons are looking to win the Viterra North Division  and goalie Eric Szudor is a big reason the MOB is right in the thick of things. (Courtesy of the AJHL)

Around three quarters of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) season is in the books and one division in nearly sewn up while the other looks like a four-dog fight.

The Brooks Bandits have nearly clinched the South, while Whitecourt and Fort McMurray are a point apart in the North, with a couple teams on their tail.

NORTH

In the Viterra North, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Whitecourt Wolverines are separated by just one point, as the Wolverines are in first and but have played two more games. The Oil Barons have the second-best goals against thanks to starter Eric Szudor, holder of the fourth best GAA, plus backup Josh Williams, who is 11-0 on the year.

The Wolverines are the league’s second highest scoring team, led by Justin Young who is seventh in the league in goals and points. Three other players – Mitch Lipon, Liam Motley and Joseph Nardi – have over 40 points and a point-per-game average, helping drive the team offence. Starting goalie Pierce Diamond, is 18-4-2 and tied with Szudor in goals against average. It could come down to the wire between Fort McMurray and Whitecourt.

For the Spruce Grove Saints, this could be the first year they don’t win the division since 2007-08, ending a nine-year run. They’re currently in third, six points behind Whitecourt and five back of Fort McMurray, and will need a strong run to get back atop the North.

Just behind the Saints are the Bonnyville Pontiacs, owners of the league’s third most-prolific offence. Derek Brown, Alden Dupuis and Brandon Whistle each have a point-per-game average and are helping the Pontiacs forget about 2016 departures Brinson and Steenn Pasichnuk, and Bobby McMann. The Pontiacs are a win behind Spruce Grove with a game in hand.

SOUTH

Down in the Viterra South, Brooks is doing what they did last year and look to once again clinch the division, and this year, the league. They’re tops in offence and goals against, plus just extended their winning streak to 15 games after defeating the South’s third place team, the Calgary Canucks, Tuesday night.

Led by potential first round NHL Draft pick Cale Makar, plus the league leader in scoring, Tyrell Mappin, Brooks has a 17-point lead with 16 games left in their schedule. They have three scorers in the top five, plus their goalies are first and second in goals against average. Brooks needs just five wins to clinch the South.

Behind the Bandits are the Okotoks Oilers with 61 points in 47 games. The resurgent Canucks have 59 points in 46 games. Both have top goalies – Okotoks’ Riley Morris and Calgary’s Logan Drackett rank on the top 10 for all major tender categories and can steal a game when needed.

Last year, the Bandits ended up winning the South by 20 points over second place Camrose, while Spruce Grove claimed the North by a 12-point margin. While the race for the South is likely over, it’ll be an entertaining sprint to see who claims the North.

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By Neil Hilts| January 26, 2017
Categories:  Junior

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