By Dave Leaderhouse
The battle for first place overall in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League standings continues to be captivating, but with the way the schedule falls this weekend it could become out-and-out electrifying.
With the Kindersley Klippers suffering their first road loss of the season, 2-1 in Notre Dame on Thursday, they now find themselves one point back of the Nipawin Hawks, Flin Flon Bombers and Humboldt Broncos for top spot in the overall point’s race.
Kindersley will try and move past those three when they continue a gruelling three-games-in-three-nights road swing with stops in Weyburn and Estevan this weekend, but Nipawin and Humboldt also have a pair of games including a key head-to-head match-up on Saturday.
Flin Flon, along with the Melfort Mustangs, is idle this weekend, so they will be scoreboard watching to see where they stand when everything shakes out. While the Bombers will be keeping a close eye on the three teams they are grouped with at the top, they will also be paying attention to what Notre Dame and the Battlefords North Stars do as both of those Global Ag Risk Solutions Division clubs could join the party.
With Thursday’s win, Notre Dame now has points in its last six games to move to within four points of the logjam for first overall. The Hounds will be in Melville on Saturday before returning home for a showdown with the North Stars on Sunday. That game for the Battlefords will be their third in as many nights as they begin a gruelling southern swing on Friday in Estevan and follow that up with a stop in Weyburn on Saturday before finding their way to Wilcox on Sunday. The Battlefords enter the weekend just one point back of Notre Dame and five in arrears of the overall leaders.
Melfort, although idle this weekend, will also have some interest in the results as they will have anywhere from two to four games in hand on those ahead of them so depending on what happens they will need to put together a winning streak to get back in the conversation for both divisional and overall point’s battles.
While the top of the standings is clear as mud, the same can be said for the bottom section.
The La Ronge Ice Wolves host the Yorkton Terriers in a doubleheader this weekend and with their improved play of late La Ronge is now two points clear of the Melville Millionaires and tied with Weyburn for the final playoff spot. A strong weekend by the Ice Wolves could pull them closer to the Terriers, the only team in the Viterra Division with a winning record, and possibly catch Estevan should the Bruins falter in their pair of home contests. Yorkton presently holds a one-point lead on the Bruins while holding a pair of games in hand.
The spoiler in this whole thing this weekend could be the Melville Millionaires, but they certainly don’t have a favourable schedule. Melville is on the road in Humboldt on Friday before returning home to face Notre Dame on Saturday. The Millionaires then head back north on Sunday to tackle the Hawks in Nipawin. While it has been a struggle for Melville early in the season, the Millionaires could prevent any, or all, of their opponents this weekend from breaking away from the pack at the top of the standings.
SJHL NOTES – Flin Flon winger Brandson Hein is on pace for a 70-goal season after his two-goal output on Thursday gave him 23 goals in 19 games. While the likelihood of that pace continuing for four more months is small, his productivity has been impressive as he now has 11 goals in his last six games alone…Equally as impressive is Bomber teammate Nate Hooper’s recent playmaking run. Hooper collected one assist (to go with a goal) in Thursday’s 3-2 win over Melfort giving him 23 helpers overall and 11 in his last five outings…The longest consecutive-game point streak this season now belongs to Melfort’s Justin Ball. The veteran forward has 25 points in his last 15 games which is one game more than the 14-game streak Yorkton’s Jared Legien had to open the season. Legien was the last player to have a point in every game this year until he was held off the scoresheet last Saturday in a game against Melville…Every team in the league has a .500 record or better on home ice, but on the road just half of the clubs are at that level and two of those are merely riding the break-even mark.
Battlefords at Estevan
Melville at Humboldt
Yorkton at La Ronge
Kindersley at Weyburn
Kindersley at Estevan
Nipawin at Humboldt
Yorkton at La Ronge
Notre Dame at Melville
Battlefords at Weyburn
Melville at Nipawin
Battlefords at Notre Dame