By Dave Leaderhouse
For a few of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League teams the first half of the 2018-19 regular season will be in the books once this weekend is completed; for the rest that benchmark is just around the corner.
The Notre Dame Hounds, Humboldt Broncos and Estevan Bruins will all be on the backside of the schedule following Saturday’s action with Notre Dame and Humboldt getting to that point by playing three games in three nights.
The Hounds begin a gruelling trip through the north on Thursday when they make a stop in La Ronge to play the struggling Ice Wolves and they will follow that up with games in Flin Flon on Friday and Nipawin on Saturday.
The league-leading Broncos go the other direction as they swing through the south with a game in Estevan on Thursday before moving over to Weyburn on Friday and ending the trip in Yorkton on Saturday.
For Estevan, Thursday’s game is their lone match on the weekend schedule, but it will put them right at the half-way mark. The Bruins will be looking to get back to the .500 mark with a win over the Broncos and also break a deadlock with Yorkton at the top of the Viterra Division standings. While those are highly respectable achievements they might be short-lived as after Thursday’s games the Terriers will have six games in hand on the Bruins.
Yorkton will begin clawing away at those extra games on Friday when they visit the red-hot Mustangs in Melfort. The Terriers, who have won their last three outings to be the only Viterra Division team with a winning record, will then return home on Saturday to face Humboldt.
The Mustangs, who have won seven straight to surge to the top of the Sherwood Division standings, will also host the Melville Millionaires on Saturday in addition to the Friday tilt against Yorkton. Melfort begins the weekend three points back of Humboldt for first place overall, but they have two games in hand and will gain another one with the Broncos playing one extra match this weekend.
A pair of second-place clubs will go head-to-head in the final game on Friday with the Battlefords North Stars making a trip to Nipawin to face the Hawks. The Battlefords have pulled one point ahead of the Kindersley Klippers in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division, but they are still six points back of the Broncos with Humboldt pulling away thanks to a six-game winning streak they take into their busy weekend schedule. Nipawin, meanwhile, also holds just a one-point edge on Flin Flon for second place in the Sherwood Division race, but they too have fallen behind the front-running Mustangs as a result of Melfort’s current seven-game run.
One other game this weekend has Kindersley making the short trip to the Battlefords on Saturday for a showdown with their closest rivals. Depending on what happens in Nipawin on Friday, the Klippers could either leap past the North Stars back into second place in the Global Ag Risk Solutions race or try and retain their one-point deficit in the standings. Kindersley will however, have three games in hand on the Battlefords following the weekend’s action.
As is customary there are no games scheduled for Grey Cup Sunday.
SJHL NOTES – This is the final weekend for teams to get a good look at their rosters before next Saturday’s first trade deadline. While normally the quieter of the two deadlines (the other is Jan. 10) this year might see a bit more action as every division race is so close. Just seven points separate the top six teams and then four points back of that are a trio of clubs deadlocked at 27 points. The battle for the final playoff spot is also highly contested as the three lower-ranked teams are separated by just six points. The divisional races are the most intriguing. Any kind of a winning streak will make a change at the top as evidenced by Melfort and Humboldt pulling ahead in their respective races. Yorkton’s current run has also made the Viterra Division a toss-up so every team will be looking to possibly try and get a bit of an edge with a roster move…Individually, Melfort’s Justin Ball is having a season to remember. The 20-year-old Saskatoon product has at least one point in his last 22 games and has been held off the scoresheet just once this year. He has five goals in his last four games and is just one behind league-leader Brandson Hein of the Flin Flon Bombers in that department. Ball is also just two points back of Hein for the overall point’s lead. With 39 points in 24 games, the three-year veteran is closing in on personal bests in every category as he had 24-24-48 totals in 50 games a year ago…Hein, who joined the Bombers in January last season, has already more than doubled his output from his first SJHL season while Yorkton’s Jared Legien has only been held off the scoresheet twice in collecting 38 points and in the process moving to within one point of Ball and three points of Hein…There is something to be said about home-ice advantage – take power-play efficiency for example. At home the Melfort Mustangs have the league’s best result connecting on 35.6 percent of their opportunities with a man advantage. On the road, however, the Mustangs are at just 16.4 percent. The Nipawin Hawks are experiencing the same trend as at home their power play is working at a 27.7 percent success rate while on the road it is just 15.4 percent. The most drastic change though belongs to the Melville Millionaires as at home their powerplay has connected on 25 percent of their opportunities while on the road they are tied for last at 9.4 percent…Interestingly enough, the reverse is true for a couple of the top teams when it comes to penalty killing. The Battlefords North Stars are successful 82.4 percent of the time killing penalties at home while on the road that numbers swells to 93.9 percent. Kindersley has a similar experience although not as drastic. The Klippers are at 86.7 percent efficiency at home and 91.7 percent on the road…One final tidbit has Nipawin and Weyburn being the only teams not being involved in an extra-time game on home ice while the La Ronge Ice Wolves are the lone squad not going beyond regulation time on the road.
Humboldt at Estevan
Notre Dame at La Ronge
Notre Dame at Flin Flon
Melville at La Ronge
Yorkton at Melfort
Battlefords at Nipawin
Humboldt at Weyburn
Kindersley at Battlefords
Melville at Melfort
Notre Dame at Nipawin
Humboldt at Yorkton