By Dave Leaderhouse
The calendar might reflect a new year, but not much has changed in the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s first rankings of 2019.
The parity-driven Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, with the exception of the first couple of weeks of the season, has rarely had anyone ranked higher than 16th on the weekly list and that is exactly where the league’s top team, the Nipawin Hawks, find themselves this time around.
The Hawks opened their 2019 portion of the regular schedule with a pair of convincing victories over the Melfort Mustangs on the weekend and with those wins climbed one spot from the last list that was posted before the Christmas break.
The strong weekend gives Nipawin a six-point lead for top spot in the Sherwood Division standings and also has them three points ahead of the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division-leading Kindersley Klippers for first place overall. Kindersley is the only other SJHL team to make the list as they occupy the No. 20 spot after collecting three of a possible four points in a doubleheader against the La Ronge Ice Wolves on the weekend.
While those leads Nipawin currently enjoys are huge by league standards established this year they are also tenuous at best as both Kindersley and the Melfort Mustangs have games in hand on the Hawks and could close those margins should they take advantage of the extra games. Melfort, which was 16th on the weekly list before Christmas, is now nowhere to be found and with losses in three of their last four outings – all against Nipawin – they have some ground to make up on the first-place Hawks.
The Hawks will look to build on their current advantages this weekend when they take on the Humboldt Broncos in a home-and-home set while Melfort will do the same with the Flin Flon Bombers. Kindersley, in a rare scheduling quirk, will once again play La Ronge in a doubleheader with both games this time taking place at the Mel Hegland Arena in La Ronge.
The CJHL Top 20 Rankings
(As of Jan. 7)
RK TEAM (LEAGUE) (LAST RANKING)
1. Brooks Bandits (AJHL) (1)
2. Thunder Bay North Stars (SIJHL) (2)
3. Oakville Blades (OJHL) (3)
4. Summerside Western Capitals (MHL) (5)
5. Cobras de Terrebonne (LHJAAAQ) (4)
6. Portage Terriers (MJHL) (7)
7. Yarmouth Jr. ‘A’ Mariners (MHL) (6)
8. North York Rangers (OJHL) (10)
9. Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL) (8)
10. Soo Thunderbirds (NOJHL) (9)
11. Swan Valley Stampeders (MJHL) (14)
12. Titan de Princeville (LHJAAAQ) (11)
13. Hawkesbury Hawks (CCHL) (HM)
14. Bonnyville Pontiacs (AJHL) (12)
15. Brockville Braves (CCHL) (HM)
16. Nipawin Hawks (SJHL) (17)
17. College Français de Longueuil (LHJAAAQ) (NR)
18. Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL) (NR)
19. Kirkland Lake Gold Miners (NOJHL) (NR)
20. Kindersley Klippers (SJHL) (HM)
HONOURABLE MENTION: Prince George Spruce Kings (BCHL); Steinbach Pistons (MJHL); Cobourg Cougars (OJHL); Rockland Nationals (CCHL); Carleton Place Canadians (CCHL)