With the quarter-pole now in the rear-view mirror, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League moves into the next stretch with what could be the tightest grouping ever seen as all three divisions have the top three clubs separated by just a handful of points and those at the bottom of each division being just a short winning streak away from joining the respective battles.
The Sherwood Division has the Flin Flon Bombers occupying the top spot, but their two-point lead on the Nipawin Hawks and three-point advantage on the Melfort Mustangs is somewhat perilous as both the Hawks and Mustangs have games in hand on the frontrunners.
The red-hot Kindersley Klippers, who have points in eight straight games, have gained control of the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division, and overall point’s lead, but the Humboldt Broncos and surging Battlefords North Stars are hot on their heels. Humboldt, which has rebuilt its team from top to bottom following the tragic events of last spring, are just two points back of the Klippers and the North Stars, after a slow start, have points in nine of their last 10 games to climb to within five points of Kindersley. They also hold games in hand on both of those above them in the divisional race.
The Viterra Division might be classed by some as the weakest of the three, but the battle is still fierce as just five points separate the leading Yorkton Terriers from the third-place Weyburn Red Wings with the Estevan Bruins tucked in safely between them. Just the Terriers have a winning record in that division, but their 61 goals scored are second most, trailing just the 76 produced by Flin Flon. Weyburn, at one point early in the season, were among the league leaders, but a freefall of sorts where they have gone winless in their last eight outings has left them looking up at those ahead of them in the standings.
As for the last-place clubs from each division, the La Ronge Ice Wolves are far ahead of where they were a year ago as their five wins to date wasn’t achieved until Dec. 1 last season. A winning streak of any kind would get them back into the Sherwood Division race and as it stands right now they are just two points out of a playoff position.
The Notre Dame Hounds have rebounded nicely from a slow start to pick up points in seven of their last 10 games and as a result have closed the gap in the tight Global Ag Risk Solutions Division. Notre Dame enters this weekend just three points behind the Battlefords and they are only eight away from the league-leading Klippers.
The Melville Millionaires, with just one win in their last 10 games, need to turn things around yet they are far from out of the race in the Viterra Division. The Millionaires are just nine points behind the front-running Terriers and with those two squaring off in a rescheduled game on Saturday they could tighten things up even more. The Millionaires have had a tough schedule to start the season as 11 of their first 16 games have been on the road and now that the ice plant problems have been fixed at their home rink they can have a bit more home cooking. Melville has yet to lose in regulation time on home ice as they are 2-0-2-1 at the Horizon Credit Union Centre.
All of this makes for another very interesting weekend as Notre Dame takes on two divisional rivals when they make stops in the Battlefords and Kindersley while Nipawin and Melfort will each make up a game they have in hand on Flin Flon when both will play a pair of games while the Bombers have just the one when they host Weyburn on Friday. Nipawin travels to Melville on Friday before returning home to entertain the Red Wings on Saturday while the Mustangs have both the Broncos and Bruins paying a visit to the Northern Lights Palace.
Humboldt could catch, or even move past, Kindersley this weekend as they are also on the road in the Battlefords in addition to their stop in Melfort and Estevan could likewise catch, or eclipse, Yorkton with road wins in La Ronge and Melfort. Of course Kindersley and Yorkton will have a lot to say about that with their lone matches against Notre Dame and Melville, respectively.
No one is running away with anything and that definitely makes each game more interesting. There are no favourites on any given night setting the stage for what should be an interesting season-long battle for playoff positioning.
SJHL NOTES – Flin Flon winger Brandson Hein continues to lead the individual scoring race with 31 points, but hot on his heels is a player who has yet to be held off the scoresheet this season as Jared Legien has 26 points in the 14 games Yorkton has played so far this year. Melfort’s Justin Ball has been held pointless just once this year and as a result his 24 points has him tied for third spot with another Flin Flon forward, Daylan Marchi…The Nipawin Hawks and Kindersley Klippers have by far the best team defences this season so not surprisingly their goaltenders lead the way in netminding statistics. Last year’s co-winners of the SaskTel Goaltender of the Year Award – Kindersley’s Justen Close and Nipawin’s Declan Hobbs – are tops in every category amongst starters as Close has a 1.97 goals-against average in 11 games while Hobbs has the best save percentage at .939 in 10 appearances. Close also leads the way in wins with eight while Hobbs has three shutouts, including two in his last three starts. Nipawin rookie Patrick Pugliese has been impressive and his 1.76 GAA is best amongst all goaltenders, but his body of work is half of that of both Close and Hobbs…A pair of Yorkton forwards, Branden Klatt and Aiden Bulych, are on impressive playmaking runs as Klatt has 10 helpers in his last seven games while Bulych, who is still just 16 years old, has eight assists in the same span…Flin Flon continues to enjoy killing penalties as they now have seven short-handed tallies this season. That is the same number the Bombers accumulated during the entire 58-game schedule a year ago…Melfort remains the only team with a perfect record on home ice as they are 5-0-0-0 heading into their games this weekend against Humboldt and Estevan. Kindersley holds that distinction on the road as the Klippers are 4-0-0-0 when playing away from the friendly confines.
Notre Dame at Battlefords
Weyburn at Flin Flon
Estevan at La Ronge
Humboldt at Melfort
Nipawin at Melville
Humboldt at Battlefords
Notre Dame at Kindersley
Estevan at Melfort
Weyburn at Nipawin
Yorkton at Melville (rescheduled from Oct. 5)