The AJHL Playoffs are set to kick off on Friday with the quarterfinals.
The Grande Prairie Storm and the Camrose Kodiaks swept their
best-of-three mini-series respectively to earn the right to face the
division leader in the next round. The Bonnyville Pontiacs were the
first team to get eliminated. It took them until the last five minutes
of the last game in the regular season to score the goal that put them
into the playoffs but once they got their it seemed they had very little
spark left. Having to travel all the way to Grande Prairie from St.
Albert – the site of their last game – was a big factor in them losing
to the Storm 6-3 in Game One.
The Storm jumped on Bonnyville late in the first but poured it on from
there. 19-year-old Lane Letendre scored with 42 seconds left in the
first period. The Storm then broke out to a 3-0 lead. Bonnyville made it
3-2 before the Storm scored a few more times to put it away.
In Game Two, Grande Prairie broke out to a 3-0 lead again by the first
minute of the second period. Bonnyville again scored two quick goals to
close the gap, but the Storm scored again in the third period and never
looked back. It was the second game in a row that all-star Tyson
Lafrance was replaced by 16-year-old Shane Bendera in goal.
Camrose never really let Bow Valley into the series. After the first
period in Game One, the Kodiaks had a 2-0 lead while all the Eagles
could muster was five shots at Camrose goaltender Wes Schnieder. From
then on, the Kodiaks cruised to a 4-1 victory.
Bow Valley was closer in Wednesday night’s game but it was Camrose that
prevailed in a close game. The teams traded goals all night, but it was
Camrose that scored the last with ten minutes remaining in the third
Now, with the mini-series settled, the real playoffs begin Friday. Here
is a preview of all four series:
SERIES ‘C’ Olds Grizzlys (28-30-4) vs Calgary Royals (39-21-2)
The first game is March 5th in Calgary at Father David Bauer Arena.
Rather than the more familiar 2-2-1-1-1 series, the two clubs will
alternate home and away each game. This could go to Olds advantage if
they can steal the first game. It leaves the door wide open for a 2-0
Season series: Olds 8 at Royals 4; Royals 7 at Olds 3; Olds 6 at Royals
7 (SO); Royals 5 at Olds 4 (SO); Olds 7 at Royals 6 (SO); Royals 4 at
Olds 7; Royals 6 at Olds 5; Royals 4 at Olds 6
Olds players to watch: F Dana Lattery had 69 points and 224 PIM in 48
games, F Ryan Melbourne and F Joel MacAuley were 2-3 in team scoring but
only combined for 12 PIM in 123 games.
Royals players to watch: F Ben Knopp is by far the best 16-year-old
forward in the league. He had 82 points and 161 PIM in 55 games. F Krys
Kolanos was fourth in the league in scoring with 110 points. He is
ranked 105th by CSB in this year’s draft. G Peter Dobrowolski’s
performance is key to the Royals success.
PREDICTION: The Grizzlys played the Royals very tough this season. In
fact, Calgary only beat Olds outright twice in eight games. When it
comes down to crunch time, however, Calgary is flat-out the better team
of the two. Royals in six.
SERIES ‘D’ Fort Saskatchewan Traders (37-24-1) vs Lloydminster Blazers
The first game is March 6th in Lloydminster at the Centennial Civic
Centre. Like the Olds/Calgary series, this one will also involve the
teams alternating home and away each game with Lloydminster having the
home ice advantage. The winner of this series plays the Storm or the
Season series: Traders 6 at Blazers 2; Blazers 4 at Traders 1; Traders 5
at Blazers 7; Traders 4 at Blazers 5; Blazers 2 at Traders 4; Blazers 3
at Traders 1; Traders 4 at Blazers 5 (SO); Blazers 2 at Traders 3
Fort Saskatchewan players to watch: 20-year-old Matt Gorman is far and
away the leader of this team with 116 points. The next closest is Nick
Deschenes with 86. The key for Lloydminster is to shut Gorman down. The
performance of G Nick Boucher, who has assumed the #1 role this year is
key for Fort Sask.
Lloydminster players to watch: Travis Barnes and Mark Hallam are this
club’s dynamic duo. Finishing the year with 93 and 92 points
respectively (Barnes with 53 goals, Hallam with 73 assists), they have
to be on their game if the Blazers hope to advance. The Blazers are
going to go with young goaltender Ray Fraser. Fraser, an 18-year-old
acquired from Camrose, played limited action with Lloyd (16 games) but
sparkled with a 1.87 GAA and was a big part of the reason why they
surged down the stretch.
PREDICTION: There are no two teams more evenly matched than these two.
Lloydminster had the edge during the regular season and played well
enough down the stretch in February to be considered an outright
favourite. However, the series is really a toss-up. Fort Saskatchewan in
SERIES ‘E’ Camrose Kodiaks (26-33-3) vs Calgary Canucks (50-8-4)
The first game is March 8th at Max Bell Arena in Calgary. The winner
will play the Olds/Royals winner.
Season series: Canucks 5 at Kodiaks 2; Canucks 3 at Kodiaks 0; Kodiaks 3
at Canucks 4 (SO); Kodiaks 1 at Canucks 3; Kodiaks 2 at Canucks 1;
Canucks 3 at Kodiaks 4 (SO); Kodiaks 2 at Canucks 5; Canucks 8 at
Camrose players to watch: To beat the juggernaut Canucks who finished
with the best regular season record in AJHL history, Camrose is going to
have to rely on its netminder to stand on his head. The club is probably
going to rotate between G Anthony Peterson (3.79 GAA) and G Wes
Schnieder (3.85) and hope that both have what it takes to defeat this
behemoth. F Riley Riddell is their go-to guy on offence and, considering
this is his draft year, the diminutive winger may have something to show
NHL scouts. Single-handedly defeating the best team in AJHL history is
definitely an eye-opener.
Canucks players to watch: Without a doubt, all eyes will be on AJHL
leading scoring Dany Heatley (126 points), set to join Wisconsin next
year. Camrose should also watch 100-point man Moe Halat, Ryan Manitowich
(87 pts) and Adrian Foster (32 pts in 18 games). Also, Calgary has the
league’s best goaltender in Mike Gilhooly. In 39 games, Gilhooly was
31-4-3 with a .902 save percentage and 2.56 GAA.
PREDICTION: There will probably be one or two games that go into
overtime, but this Calgary Canucks team is much too strong to bow out in
the first round. Camrose, who may also be a bit tired from their series
with Bow Valley, has the capability to give them a bit of a scare, but
it won’t be much. Canucks in five.
SERIES ‘F’ Grande Prairie Storm (33-22-7) vs St. Albert Saints (43-19-0)
The first game is March 5th at Akinsdale Arena in St. Albert.
Season series: Saints 2 at Storm 5; Saints 4 at Storm 1; Storm 3 at
Saints 0; Storm 1 at Saints 4; Storm 1 at Saints 6; Saints 5 at Storm 6;
Storm 4 at Saints 2; Storm 1 at Saints 3
Grande Prairie players to watch: Blaine Bablitz and his 84 points are
far and away the best on the Storm – the next closest is Shane Mudryk’s
62 points. Aside from production from Bablitz the Storm need a balanced
attack from Mudryk, Mike Mohr (55 points), Jordan Peter (49), Lane
Letendre (46) and Mark Grumetza (41). Also, netminders Dan Morgan and
Chad Rycroft will have to stand on their head. I think Rycroft will get
the nod in the first two games of the series at least. He was the go-to
guy in the previous series with Bonnyville.
St. Albert players to watch: Former Spokane Chief Ron Grimard has had an
outstanding season with 108 points. Behind him is an extremely
well-balanced attack consisting of Pavel Beranek (79 points), Rob
Ziemmer (73 points), former Edmonton Ice Joey Bastien (71), Michael
Buchan (65), Brent Robertson (61) and Darren Peebles (60). The team also
sports an outstanding goaltending duo of Kirby Millar and Scott
Kabotoff. Kabatoff, who recently signed a letter-of-intent to Wisconsin,
will be the go-to guy in the playoffs. Despite the balanced scoring
attack, the key to the Saints in the playoffs will be their goaltending
and defence. The team went into a bit of a slide in the last half of
February after defenceman Scott Farrell went down to a hamstring injury.
They’re going to need him to recover in time to play effectively in
PREDICTION: The Grande Prairie Storm were a tough team for the Saints to
beat during the regular season. The two teams split the season series
4-4. The deciding factor may just be the fact that the Storm had to play
a mini-series prior to the quarter-finals. St. Albert in seven.