It's a who's who list of western marksmen and grinders on the AJHL's all-time top 50 list marking that development league's 50th anniversary. Here's my 20-man team from that group.
The Alberta Jr. Hockey League turns the magical 50 this season and the folks did an online poll to determine the top 50 players who passed through its doors.
It's a fascinating list of prairie boys, many of whom went on to star in the NHL. Mark Messier (Spruce Grove Mets) and Lanny McDonald (Lethbridge Sugar Kings) made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The AJHL broke down the top 50 list into five decade groups of 10 players apiece. Voters were encouraged to base their selection on their accomplishments in both the AJHL and NHL.
Forty-three players from the top 50 played in the NHL. Eight of them won Stanley Cups. Thirteen of the 50 are still active in the NHL I personally got to see most of the first two decade all-stars play when I was growing up in Alberta. Most of the latter three decade all-stars I've watched play in the NHL.
From this list of 50 all-stars, I've assembled a 20-man roster that I assure you would be a Stanley Cup contender today if we were able to capture these players in their prime. Imagine having to face four feisty Sutters in a clutch series? I'm not overly concerned with the positions of my forwards. I have a few centers playing on the wings.
Here's my lineup:
Dany Heatley (Calgary Canucks), Mark Messier (Spruce Grove), Lanny McDonald (Lethbridge)
Brian Sutter (Red Deer Rustlers), Brent Sutter (Red Deer), Darryl Sutter (Red Deer)
Scott Hartnell (Lloydminster Blazers), Kelly Kisio (Red Deer), Duane Sutter (Red Deer)
Stu Barnes (St. Albert Saints), Troy Murray (St. Albert), Garry Unger (Calgary Buffaloes)
First pair defense
Dave Babych (Fort Saskatchewan Traders), Glen Wesley (Red Deer)
Second pair defense
Wade Redden (Lloydminster), Chris Phillips (Fort McMurray Oil Barons)
Third pair defense
Zarley Zalapski (Fort Saskatchewan), Dylan Olsen (Camrose Kodiaks)
Mike Vernon (Calgary Canucks), John Davidson (Lethbridge)
The AJHL is one of many Jr. A development leagues in Canada that supplies players to the three major junior leagues and U.S. colleges. “The AJHL is proud to recognize this unique and diverse group of athletes as its’ top 50 players of all-time and is honored to have contributed to their development and illustrious careers,” said league commissioner and AJHL alumnus Ryan Bartoshyk.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN