The Calgary Canucks continue to prove that a balanced roster can have significant benefits in the highly competitive Alberta Junior Hockey League.
The Canucks are second in the Rogers AT & T Wireless South Division, and third overall, despite not having a player among the league's 20 leading scorers.
" You're not going to win a lot with one line," said Canucks' head coach Don Phelps, who is second among Canadian Junior 'A' Hockey League coaches with 659 career regular-season wins.
The Canucks are six points behind the defending league and Doyle Cup champion Camrose Kodiaks in the South, with a 28-11-6 record. They are six points behind Camrose and the Grande Prairie Storm, which leads the North Division, in the overall standings.
Camrose is 32-9-4 and Grande Prairie is 32-11-4. The Olds Grizzlys are a strong third in the South, and fourth overall, at 27-9-5, with four games in hand on Camrose and the Canucks.
Jon Grecu, Kyle Gailey and Matt Scrivens lead the Canucks with 39, 38 and 37 points, respectively. They are among nine Canucks with 10 or more goals. " We rely on Grecu to put the puck in the net," said Phelps. "He tore his knee and was out for six weeks."
Grecu, 17, has 16 goals and leads the Canucks with 23 assists in 37 games. Scrivens leads the team with 22 goals in 40 games. Gailey has 18 goals in 44 games.
" Scrivens is the other guy who makes us go," said Phelps, who coached the Canucks to the 25th Centennial Cup national junior A championship in Ottawa in 1995 with a similar balanced roster.
Phelps recognizes that it will be a struggle in the South stretch run and playoffsbecause Camrose and Olds are "very good teams.
" We have to be tougher in battles for the puck," he said. "We don't play as well in traffic as we should."
Camrose, which won the 2001 Royal Bank Cup national championship in Flon Flon, Man., and was the finalist at the 2003 Royal Bank Cup in Charlottetown, P. E. I., is a skilled team.
The Kodiaks, Olds, the Canucks and Fort McMurray Oil Barons are the most serious challengers to possibly join Grande Prairie in the Royal Bank Cup scheduled May 8-16 in Grande Prairie.
But the AJHL's leading contenders face a difficult task if they hope to qualify for the Royal Bank Cup. They must beat the Storm in the league playoffs, and defeat the British Columbia Hockey League champion in the best-of-seven Doyle Cup, to advance to Grande Prairie.
The Sherwood Park Crusaders, St. Albert Saints, Calgary Royals, Canmore Eagles and Drayton Valley Thunder
are the league's other teams above .500.
The Canucks are relatively young, with three players born in 1986, 10 born in 1985, five born in 1984 and only four 20-year-olds.
Phelps counts on captain Lane Scruggs, 19, for his leadership.
" He is a character guy," said Phelps.Defenceman Chris McKanna, goalies Dean Stabler and Ryan Dutton are others who make key contributions to the team's success.
" We've been getting good goaltending," said Phelps.
" McKanna has been steady Eddie all season. He's small but solid. He is a notch above the rest of the defencemen."
McKanna has 13 assists and 15 points in 43 games.
Stabler, 18, is third in the league with a 2.39 goals against average in 1,278 minutes. He has a .911 saves percentage, one shutout and a 15-2-3 won-lost-tied record.
" He's going to be a good goalie," said Phelps. "He's a good scholar and hopes to go to (a National Collegiate Athletic Association) school." Dutton, 19, is sixth in the league with a 2.70 goals against average in 1,446 minutes. He has a .903 saves percentage and 12-9-3 won-lost-tied record. The Canucks rate with Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray and Olds as the league's stingiest teams defensively. Grande Prairie, Camrose and Olds are the highest-scoring teams.
The final six weeks of the regular schedule will determine a lot as the contenders set their sights on comfortable playoff positions and a trip to Grande Prairie in May.