By Dave Leaderhouse
The final trade deadline has come and gone with a little bit of activity, but now that that fearsome day is behind everyone the players and coaching staff can concentrate on the final eight weeks of the regular season with set rosters in place.
In a very rare scheduling oddity all 12 teams play back-to-back games this weekend as there are just a handful of nights each year that has a full slate of games and seldom, if ever, does that occur on consecutive nights.
The Flin Flon Bombers made the biggest moves this week when they acquired Cade Kowalski from the Weyburn Red Wings and then late on Thursday they sent goaltender Pierce Diamond to the Estevan Bruins, who then sent him to Cowichan Valley of the British Columbia Hockey League.
The new-look Bombers will take on the Melfort Mustangs in a home-and-home set this weekend with Flin Flon looking to chase down the teams ahead of them in the Sherwood Division. Flin Flon enters the weekend 10 points back of the league-leading Nipawin Hawks and six points behind Melfort with the Bombers holding games in hand on both of those squads.
While those two square off, Nipawin will have a home-and-home set of its own with the Humboldt Broncos. The Hawks enter weekend action with a four-point cushion on the Mustangs for the division lead and they are also three points clear of the Kindersley Klippers for the overall point’s lead. Both Melfort and Kindersley, however, have a pair of games in hand on the frontrunners.
Humboldt, meanwhile, has won its last two games to move ahead of the Battlefords North Stars for second place in the tightly-packed Global Ag Risk Solutions Division. The Broncos, who dropped their first game under new head coach Scott Barney when the team returned from the Christmas break, are now just four points back of the Klippers for the divisional lead following their recent success.
In another scheduling oddity, the Klippers will play the La Ronge Ice Wolves in a doubleheader for the second consecutive weekend. The teams split last weekend’s twinbill in Kindersley with action this week moving up north to the Mel Hegland Arena in La Ronge.
One other home-and-home series this weekend has Estevan tangling with the Notre Dame Hounds. The Bruins have slowly picked away at the Viterra Division lead held by the Yorkton Terriers as they now find themselves just four points back with Yorkton’s games in hand down to just two games (it was six at one point).
For Notre Dame, this weekend’s action will be just their second and third games in the last month. The Hounds are last in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division, but their .500 record is better than all but Yorkton from the Viterra Division.
The remaining games this weekend have both the Battlefords and Weyburn switching spots each night with games against Yorkton and Melville.
The Battlefords are at the beginning of a long stretch of road games as nine of their next 10 will be away from the friendly confines. Their home rink is home to a national curling event this weekend and the remainder is how the schedule was drawn up as the North Stars, by far, played the most home games in the first half of the season.
The Melville-Weyburn clash on Friday has major playoff implications as the Millionaires are just three points ahead of the Red Wings for the final berth, but Weyburn does have two games in hand. It will be Weyburn’s first game without Kowalski, who at the time of the trade to Flin Flon was second in team scoring with 39 points.
For Yorkton, this weekend will undoubtedly be a chance to get settled back into a routine that got them to the top of the Viterra Division standings. Over the Christmas break their leading scorer, Jared Legien, was summoned by the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. After three games, in which he recorded three points, Legien was sent back to Yorkton. Then last week the Terriers made a goaltender swap with Weyburn sending Ben Laidlaw to the Red Wings in exchange for Riley Lamb. When the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos made a major deal sending their top goaltender to the Portland Winterhawks this week, the Broncos quickly called up Lamb to fill the void. That left the Terriers looking for another goaltender and on Thursday, in a deadline deal with Notre Dame, they acquired Andrew Henderson.
Once this weekend’s action is over the spotlight will switch to Regina for the second annual Sask/Man Showcase, which is set for Monday and Tuesday at the Co-Operators Centre. It is a busy stretch for everyone and the action will only heat up as the regular season winds down.
SJHL NOTES – After Melfort forward Justin Ball’s consecutive-game point streak came to an end last weekend at 33 games, the longest such active run now belongs to Weyburn’s Eric Soar at 10 games. Soar’s teammate Sean Olson shares the longest current goal-scoring streak with Humboldt’s Drew Warkentine at four games, but again that is a long way from the 13-game stretch Ball had earlier in the season. As for playmaking, Melfort’s Tanner Zentner has 11 assists in his last seven games, which is closing in on the nine-game run Flin Flon’s Calvon Boots had at the start of the season to set the standard in that category…Nipawin continues to have the stingiest defence in the league allowing just 79 goals against in 40 games. As a result, the Hawks’ tandem of Patrick Pugliese and Declan Hobbs lead the way with identical 1.86 goals-against averages. The Mustangs’ Shawn Parkinson has closed the gap since arriving from Drayton Valley in early November as the 19-year-old has a 1.91 GAA in his 17 appearances…While Ball’s consecutive point streak might have come to an end his lead atop the individual scoring race is still sizeable. Ball leads all scorers with 41 goals and his 68 points is 11 more than linemate Carson Albrecht and Flin Flon’s Nate Hooper. Ball is still well within reach of becoming the SJHL’s first 50-goal scorer in almost a decade while he will need a productive closing stretch to get to the 100-point plateau. Melfort has just 20 games left on the schedule so at his current pace it is attainable, but hockey gets a lot tighter as the season winds down.
Kindersley at La Ronge
Flin Flon at Melfort
Humboldt at Nipawin
Estevan at Notre Dame
Melville at Weyburn
Battlefords at Yorkton
Notre Dame at Estevan
Melfort at Flin Flon
Nipawin at Humboldt
Kindersley at La Ronge
Battlefords at Melville
Yorkton at Weyburn
Monday and Tuesday
Sask/Man Showcase at Co-operators Centre in Regina