It has been nearly two weeks since the Estevan Bruins last played a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League contest and this weekend they will get a huge dose of the upper echelon as the league-leading Battlefords North Stars pay a visit to Affinity Place on Friday followed by the league’s stingiest defence in the Nipawin Hawks on Saturday.
Estevan, which has claimed the Vittera Division banner in each of the last two seasons, enters this weekend three points back of the Melville Millionaires for that honour, but they have games in hand on everyone in the league due to their light schedule to start the current campaign.
The Bruins are winless in their last four outings thanks largely to their low offensive output. Through six games, the Bruins, which have been perennial leaders in team offence, have managed just 14 goals, but their average per game is still better than the Notre Dame Hounds and just percentage points behind both the Weyburn Red Wings and Yorkton Terriers. Estevan will be looking to get untracked offensively this weekend, but they will have their hands full with the tough opposition that is swinging through the southeastern portion of the province.
The Battlefords, the defending league champions who opened the season with seven straight victories before suffering a surprising 6-2 setback in Yorkton on Tuesday, will conclude their four-games-in-five-nights tour of the Vittera Division with a date in Weyburn on Saturday.
Nipawin, the two-time defending regular-season champions begin a three-games-in-three-nights trip in Weyburn on Friday and follow that up with stops in Estevan on Saturday and Notre Dame on Sunday. The Hawks, who have surrendered a paltry 13 goals, with nearly half of that in their lone setback in their last outing in Flin Flon, will be looking to keep pace with the red-hot Melfort Mustangs for top spot in the Sherwood Division and the North Stars for first place overall. Nipawin enters the weekend just one point back of the Mustangs and three in arrears of the Battlefords, but the Hawks hold two games in hand on both of those clubs.
Melfort, which opened the season with back-to-back 3-0 setbacks at the hands of the Hawks, have points in their last seven games to move to the top of the Sherwood Division standings. The Mustangs, who had a six-game winning streak come to an end when they fell to the La Ronge Ice Wolves in overtime on Tuesday, face the surging Humboldt Broncos in a home-and-home affair this weekend with Humboldt having the longest current winning streak after posting victories in their last four outings.
The league’s three top scorers go head-to-head on consecutive nights when the Kindersley Klippers travel to Flin Flon for a pair of matches against the Bombers. Donavan Houle-Villeneuve and Alec Malo from Flin Flon top the individual point’s race with 16 points each, but close behind is Kindersley’s Dawson McKenzie. Both Flin Flon and Kindersley have had little trouble scoring goals, but they have both also struggled in keeping the puck out of their own net so there could be some offensive fireworks in northern Manitoba this weekend.
Two other games this weekend have the Melville Millionaires home to Notre Dame on Friday before they head up Highway 10 for a match against Yorkton. This will be the first meeting between the two rivals since opening weekend when Millionaires’ goaltender, Berk Berkeliev, was flattened out by the blueline while playing a loose puck by Yorkton’s Greg Mulhall. That play resulted in a 25-game suspension for Mulhall, who was subsequently banned from the league after disparaging comments surfaced on the internet. The Highway 10 rivalry is always hot enough without unwanted incidents like this coming into play so it will be interesting to see what happens in Yorkton on Saturday.
SJHL NOTES – Humboldt’s Bryson Cecconi has the longest consecutive-game goal-scoring streak intact entering the weekend’s action having scored once in each of the last four Bronco outings. Austin Becker from the Battlefords has the longest such streak this season when he netted seven goals in a six-game stretch to start the season…Flin Flon’s Alec Malo is the league’s top playmaker with 12 assists. He has set up at least one goal in each of the Bombers’ first seven games to easily have the longest consecutive assist streak this year…As for points, Becker, Houle-Villeneuve and Malo have all registered at least one point in their respective team’s games with Becker’s string being two games longer due to the number of games played…The Battlefords have by far scored the most goals so far this year with 47 in nine games, but it hasn’t been because of a proficient powerplay. The North Stars are seventh in that category with a 16.3 percent success rate, which is well behind Flin Flon’s staggering 31.1 per cent. On the other side of the specialty team results is Melfort leading the way in penalty killing with just three power goals against in 57 times shorthanded. That translates to a 94.7 percent success rate, which is a big reason for the Mustangs having caught fire of late.
Kindersley at Flin Flon
Humboldt at Melfort
Notre Dame at Melville
Nipawin at Weyburn
Battlefords at Estevan
Kindersley at Flin Flon
Melville at Yorkton
Battlefords at Weyburn
Nipawin at Estevan
Melfort at Humboldt
Nipawin at Notre Dame