Around the AJHL: Bandits break record, Saints spoil party

The Saints played with a chip on their shoulder after dropping both of their match-ups against the Bandits earlier this year.

The Spruce Grove Saints ended the Brooks Bandits' winning streak with a 5-4 win at Grant Fuhr Arena in Spruce Grove Saturday. Evan J. Pretzer

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The Brooks Bandits reign of terror came to an end but not before they set the Alberta Junior Hockey League Record for consecutive wins to start a season.

Brooks defeated the Camrose Kodiaks 8-3 last Wednesday to set the record at 21 wins. Two nights later, they took down the Drayton Valley Thunder 5-4 in overtime to improve to 22-0.

All good things, however, must come to an end, and it was a familiar foe who managed to snap the streak. The Spruce Grove Saints welcomed the Bandits to the Grant Fuhr Arena on Saturday and handed them their first loss of the season 5-4.

The Saints played with a chip on their shoulder after dropping both of their match-ups against the Bandits earlier this year. There is also the memory of the Bandits celebrating an AJHL championship win the last time they visited Spruce Grove.

The two teams, who remarkably combine to hold the last 10 league championships, put on a show. Spruce Grove opened up a three goal lead in the first with goals from Ryan Peckford, Reid Schaefer and Sam Popowich.

Each team added a goal in the second, as Taylor Makar cut the Saints lead to 3-2 before Schaefer netted his second of the night. Jakob Lee kept the Bandits in it early in the third by making it 4-3, but Adam Hall quickly re-established the two goal lead.

Makar set the stage for a wild finish by making it a one goal game again with three minutes on the clock, but Spruce Grove hung on. Pierce Charleson made 26 saves on 31 shots in the loss and Matthew Davis turned aside 17 of 21 shots. This was junior A hockey at its finest.

The Sherwood Park Crusaders and Okotoks Oilers might have something to say about it, but if this is the preview of another AJHL final matchup, fans are in for a treat.

North Division

Sherwood Park rolled along in first place in the North this week, adding a pair of wins over the Bonnyville Pontiacs 3-2 and Lloydminster Bobcats 4-0 to improve to 21-2-0 and 43 points. They will look to continue momentum against the Grande Prairie Storm on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Grande Prairie.

Spruce Grove fell to the Drumheller Dragons 5-2 before taking down the undefeated Bandits 5-4. They sit second at 17-5-0 and 35 points. The Saints will now head on the road for three games starting with a contest against the Calgary Canucks on Friday at 7 p.m.

Bonnyville slid with back-to-back losses to the Crusaders and Canmore Eagles (3-0). The losses drop the Pontiacs to 13-6-2 and 28 points on the year. They will aim to get back on track against the Brooks Bandits on Saturday.

Whitecourt moved within striking distance of the Pontiacs with two more wins over the struggling Fort McMurray Oil Barons. They are 11-7-2 and have 24 points. This comes one weekend after the Wolverines won both games of a back-to-back in Fort McMurray. Whitecourt will face off against Grande Prairie on Friday with their four game win streak on the line.

The Drayton Valley Thunder took advantage of Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie sliding in the standings to move into the top five in the north at 6-12-4 and 16 points.

Grande Prairie fell to 7-13-1 while the Oil Barons moved to 7-15-1 in a tie for sixth place. Lloydminster is last in the North at 3-17-3.

South Division

Brooks loss to the Saints did little to put a dent in their lead on the South Division, at 23-1-0 and 46 points. The Bandits are focused on getting back in the win column against the Oil Barons on Friday.

Okotoks continued their winning streak and improved to 18-2-2 and 38 points with a pair of wins over the Camrose (7-2) and the Olds Grizzlys (4-3 OT) Okotoks will clash with Canmore on Friday at 7 p.m.

Drumheller defeated the Saints but fell 4-2 to the Drayton Valley Thunder on Saturday, moving them to 12-8-2 and 26 points. Drumheller will meet Okotoks on Saturday at 7 p.m. in their next matchup.

Camrose rectified their blowout loss to the Oilers with a win over the Calgary Canucks (5-2), as the Kodiaks held on to fourth spot at 10-9-2 and 22 points.

Canmore is holding on to their spot in the top five by a thread at 8-11-2 and 18 points. The Eagles defeated the Pontiacs but fell to Lloydminster this past week. They will face off against Okotoks on Friday.

Olds and Calgary continue to battle for the final playoff spot. The Grizzlys are 5-13-2 and have 12 points while the Canucks are in last at 3-19-1 and seven points.

Special Teams Gurus

Brooks built on their league best power play this past weekend, improving to 27.50 per cent with the man advantage. Canmore holds the second best power play at 25.23 per cent, while Sherwood Park has not gone anywhere at 24.32 per cent.

Okotoks is in fourth after boosting their man advantage to 23.81 per cent on the year, and the Drumheller Dragons moved into fifth this past weekend at 22.68 per cent.

On the kill the Crusaders are operating at 89.90 per cent but the Bandits are trailing closely at 88.70 per cent. Okotoks has killed off 86.14 per cent of power plays in fourth and the Pontiacs round out the top five at 84.52 per cent.

Scoring Leaders

Crusaders forward Carter Savoie held on to the league lead with 45 points (26 goals -19 assists-45) but Bandits forward Randy Hernandez is hot on his trail with 42 on the year (16-26-42)

Arjun Atwal fell to third place with 41 points (8-33-41) while Bandits Jakob Lee (21-19) and Brayden Krieger (17-20) took over fourth and fifth spot at 40 and 37 points respectively.

Players of the week

Lee earned player of the week honours after scoring five times and adding three goals over three games this past week. He was awarded the star of the game for the fourth time after recording a career high seven points in his team’s 8-3 win over Camrose.

Okotoks Oilers goaltender Ashton Abel is the defensive player of the week, after backstopping his team to two more wins and improving to 15-0-1.

Abel (Fort McMurray, AB) leads all AJHL goalies with a 1.58 GAA and .932 save percentage.  This is his first season with the Oilers after spending the first two seasons of his AJHL career with the Calgary Mustangs.

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