With the hottest team in the league idle this weekend, the remaining Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League combatants still have some business to take care of.
The Yorkton Terriers, winners of their last six games, are on a rare eight-day break as they prepare for their final five games of the regular season. The Terriers, whose magic number is down to three to clinch the top seed in the Sherwood Division standings, will be watching to see how the Melville Millionaires fair as any combination of Melville losses and Yorkton victories totalling three will give Yorkton home-ice advantage throughout the Sherwood Division playoffs.
Melville, who has won their last five games, can, at the very least, clinch second spot with victories over the Notre Dame Hounds and Weyburn Red Wings this weekend. Victories in both games would also keep them very much alive in the chase for first place in the Sherwood Division while a loss in either or both tilts would likely spell the end for a first-place finish and bring the Hounds back into the chase for second spot.
Notre Dame also hosts the Nipawin Hawks on Saturday in addition to the home game on Friday against Melville and with two games in hand on the Millionaires, they will, in all likelihood, have to run the table to have any hope of finishing higher than their present third-place position in the standings.
The Millionaires and Hounds are also scheduled to do battle in Melville on Tuesday so this weekend’s results will have even more bearing on that contest. Yorkton doesn’t return to the ice until Wednesday when they host Notre Dame and their playoff future could be settled by then.
Still with the Sherwood Division, a crucial doubleheader in Kindersley on Saturday and Sunday between the Klippers and Estevan Bruins will go a long way in determining the overall playoff picture from that division.
Kindersley enters the weekend with a one-point lead over the Bruins with the Klippers having played one more game than Estevan. Kindersley is eight points clear of Weyburn for the final playoff spot while the Bruins are seven. Neither the Klippers or the Bruins can catch third-place Notre Dame, but this weekend’s doubleheader will not only have bearing on securing a playoff spot, but it will also have some significance in who gets home-ice advantage for the Survivor Series in the Sherwood Division.
The Red Wings still have some light at the end of tunnel although that light is fading fast. With eight games remaining on the schedule, Weyburn is in must-win mode beginning Friday at home to Nipawin and on Saturday in Melville. If the Red Wings lose either, or both of those matches, their lifeline for a playoff berth would be faint.
The North Division playoff picture isn’t any clearer with the exception of top spot.
The defending league champion Humboldt Broncos, who have just one regulation loss in their last 17 games, have a 10-point lead on both the Flin Flon Bombers and Nipawin with seven games remaining.
The Broncos’ magic number to clinch first place is three and they will be looking to reduce that number this weekend with a game in Melfort on Friday against the Mustangs. Any combination of Humboldt wins and Nipawin losses totalling three will give the Broncos home-ice advantage throughout the North Division playoffs.
Nipawin, who blanked the Bruins 1-0 in Estevan on Thursday, continue their three-games-in-three-nights tour of the southern part of the province with games in Weyburn on Friday and Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Hawks moved percentage points ahead of the Bombers for second place with Thursday’s win as they have a game in hand on Flin Flon. The Bombers and Nipawin are also looking over their shoulders at the Battlefords Stars, who are just five points back.
Flin Flon hosts the Stars on Friday and they then make the long journey to Melfort on Saturday while the Battlefords also make a trip into LaRonge this weekend as they face the Ice Wolves on Saturday.
While the Stars can’t catch Humboldt for first place, a pair of weekend victories would certainly put them in a position to challenge for second spot. Flin Flon, which held the North Division lead right up to Christmas, could finish as low as fourth if they falter down the home stretch or, with a run of the table and some help from teams playing Humboldt, could finish first. Realistically, their main focus is on second place as Humboldt only needs to win two of their final seven games to put the Bombers out of the race for the No. 1 seed.
While the jockeying for the top four spots continues in the North Division, there is still a battle for the final playoff berth in that group with Melfort holding a slim one-point lead on the Ice Wolves. The Mustangs, however, have three games in hand including their home games this weekend against Humboldt and Flin Flon.
Melfort, who play five of their final eight games at the Northern Lights Palace, have a crucial head-to-head contest with LaRonge on Wednesday and any success this weekend would certainly take some of the pressure off the Mustangs. Of note, three of the Mustangs’ final eight games are against Flin Flon, which could work in favour for either team as the season winds down through its final two weeks.
There is still a lot to be settled and this weekend most certainly won’t answer all the questions. But, the post-season picture might be a bit clearer come Monday morning.