For the past few years, Calgary’s two Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) teams have sat near the bottom of the league standings.
However, after nearly one month into the 2016-17 campaign, one team sits at the top, while the other is in a familiar place in the cellar.
On the city’s west side, the Mustangs have just one win and have given up 12 more goals than the next closest team. Meanwhile, the Canucks sit atop the Viterra South Division with a 6-2-1 record.
Under guidance of a new head coach, James Poole, the Canucks have stormed out of the gate in the first month and rank fourth in the league in goals scored.
Poole came over from division rival Okotoks and has infused new energy into the normally struggling franchise.
Led by key 20-year-olds averaging more than a point-per-game so far, the Canucks have hit the back of the net four times or more in six of nine games.
Matthew Painchaud, who last year played for the Saskatchewan Junior League’s (SJHL) La Ronge Ice Wolves, has 12 points, while AJHL journeyman Ben Assad has 10 points and will look to finish his career in Cowtown. From the blueline, defenceman Allan MacPherson has 10 points and is looking poised to surpass last year’s career season where he broke the 30-point plateau.
Many of the Canucks’ games have been close, with six games decided between two goals or less, and they’ve scored six in back-to-back games as well.
Logan Drackett, who was a member of the AJHL All-Rookie Team, First All-Star Team last season and led the league in GAA, has not quite reached last year’s level, but if he does, the Canucks can be true contenders – something that hasn’t been said in a long time.
Across Calgary, the Mustangs have struggled immensely, allowing a league-high 5.5 goals against and ranking just above the Lloydminster Bobcats in offence. Opponents have scored five or more goals in six of eight games.
Their lone win came against the 0-7 Lloydminster Bobcats, but the Bobcats still won the shot battle 38-29.
And the most recent game? An 8-0 loss at the hands of the Canmore Eagles in which they were outshot 57-32, and 29-4 in the first period alone. The boxscore shows only 15 skaters dressed, a far cry from the 18 allowed.
Last year, the Mustangs had Kyle Dumba in net for a portion of the year, but he’s sticking with the Calgary Hitmen for now, leaving two young goalies, 17-year-olds Bailey Brkin and Cole Hayward, to man the crease.
Last year, the Mustangs set an AJHL record with 29 winless games from October to December, so that’s one area they can certainly hope to improve.
There are some promising players, like returnee Jordan Xavier who had 40 points in 44 games last year, along with Matthew Kopperud, a 17-year-old from Denver with four points in five games early on. Cole Chorney, who played a season and a portion of another with the Red Deer Rebels, was acquired on Oct. 3 and should make a big impact in the top six.
The Calgary teams clashed on Sept. 25, and it was a close affair that saw the Canucks squeak out a 6-5 win. The Canucks had a whopping 52 shots and both teams scored three times in the third, but the Mustangs couldn’t keep pace.
Unfortunately winning hasn’t translated into an uptick in attendance for the Canucks, yet. Both Calgary teams are drawing just over 200 fans per night, much lower than the league average.
Last year, there was a lot of talk about the franchises suffering in attendance and the standings, and if that could mean relocation. A down economy won’t help attendance, so a competitive, winning team is the best shot.
For the Canucks, it’s a welcome change to be a contender, but for the Mustangs, this could be another long season of losing if something doesn’t change soon.
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