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AMBHL Playoffs Kick Off with Best-of-Three Division Quarterfinals

By Neil Hilts on February 17, 2017

After recording the best record in the history of the AMBHL at 31-1-4, the St. Albert Gregg Distributors Sabres are the favourites for to win the Provincial Championship as the playoffs began earlier this week. They lost Game 2 and must rebound over the Sherwood Park United Cycle Flyers. (Twitter/St. Albert Sabres)

Valentine’s Day was put on hold for some of the top Bantam players in Alberta as the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) kicked off on Feb. 14.

For most of the other squads, it began Feb. 15 with the division quarterfinals. The playoffs will run for the next month or so with teams vying for the Provincial Championship.

The St. Albert Gregg Distributors Sabres are facing the Sherwood Park United Cycle Flyers and it’s huge surprise they didn’t sweep the best-of-three series. The Sabres went 31-1-4 in the regular season, while the Flyers were 13-18-5, 35 points back in the standings. With more than 100 goals scored and 52 fewer allowed, the Sabres are the obvious favourite. They took Game 1 behind three points from Ethan Leyer for a 5-2 final. However, the Flyers played with a vengeance in Game 2 and won 4-3 in overtime behind 52 saves from Luke Cameron. Game 3 is Saturday, Feb. 18 and the Flyers will look to complete the upset.

The other Nitro North matchup put the Knights of Columbus Squires against the MLAC Scott Pump, who finished two wins apart in the standings. The Squires allowed 37 fewer goals, but their offence is on the same level as MLAC. However, MLAC won back-to-back games 5-4 and 5-2, already advancing to the Division Finals. 

The Fort Saskatchewan Rangers against Lloydminster Fountain Tire Bobcats was another interesting series. The Rangers finished 27-7-2, while the Bobcats were just 9-21-6. In Game 1, Fort Saskatchewan won 3-2 in double overtime, despite 46 saves from the Bobcats’ Vaughn Holbeche. In Game 2, the Rangers – owners of the league’s third best offence in the regular season – exploded to win 9-6 thanks to five points from Noah Boyko, plus three players with two goals. The Rangers now advance to the Division Finals.

Due to the travel, Grand Peace and Camrose won’t get underway until Friday. The Red Wings should be favoured over the GP Athletic Club Storm after finishing with seven more wins in the year, plus having a goal differential 63 better than the Storm. Ty Yoder and Dallon Melin each averaged more than two points per game during the year and will be big offensive threats from Camrose.

The All-Calgary Challenger South features one massively-lopsided matchup and one even one. The Calgary Bisons disposed of the Calgary Northstar by shutting them out 9-0 and 4-0 in consecutive games. The Bisons have two dynamic forwards: Ozzy Wiesblatt and Braden Plaschewsky, who finished third and fourth in league scoring, respectively, both breaking the 70-point plateau. Garin Bjorklund turned in shutouts both games, while Jayden Grubbe had a hat trick and Wiesblatt recorded five points in the 9-0 drubbing.

Meanwhile, the Royals and Flames went to overtime in Game 1, with the lower-seeded Royals claiming the series’ first win. In the regular season, the Flames were 15-13-8, while the Royals were 12-19-5. Neither team has star scorers, although the Royals’ Nathan Morgan had 45 points, best of any player in the series. He had two goals in the first playoff game, which the Royals won 5-4 in OT. Game two saw the Flames even the series with a 2-1 win, highlighted by two assists from the Flames’ Jayden Davis. The winner-take-all Game 3 is Saturday.

Last year’s defending Provincial Champions, the Lethbridge Val Matteotti Golden Hawks, faced a talented Airdrie Xtreme team who finished .500 on the year. In Game 1, the Golden Hawks won 3-1 while Airdrie’s Nathan Airey turned aside 40 shots. Ridly Greig, one of six players to break 70 points in the league, has been a leading force for Golden Hawks in the regular season and so far in the playoffs. Airdire turned in an amazing effort in the second game, but Lethbridge’s offence was too much to overcome as they won the game 6-5 to advance to the next round. Greig scored four goals, while Scout Truman had four helpers.

The closest series based on regular season finish is between the Red Deer Rebels and Rocky Mountain Raiders. The Rebels have Noah Danielson, the AMBHL’s scoring champion, with 78 points, and Brett Meerman, who finished ninth in league scoring with 67 points. Meerman had three points to lead the Rebels to a 3-2 win in Game 1. The Raiders, who score less but have better defence, will need goalie Jackson Berry, top five in tender stats, to come up big and stifle the Red Deer offence. In Game 2, the Raiders had five different scorers as they won 5-3, limiting the Rebels’ Danielson to one secondary assist.

The next round, the Division Finals, will be a best-of-three, before the Regional Finals and Provincial Championships move to a best-of-five format.

Following the Provincial Championships, the victorious Alberta team will head to Warman and Martensville, Sask. to play in the Western Canada Bantam Championship from March 30 to Apr. 2.

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By Neil Hilts| February 17, 2017
Categories:  Minor Hockey
Keywords:  AB Minor Hockey

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