The final weekend of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular schedule is upon us and with 335 games in the books it will take the final 13 games to complete the playoff picture.
The top two teams – Battlefords North Stars and Flin Flon Bombers – are firmly entrenched in their positioning and all that remains for those two clubs is to find out who their first-round opponent will be.
The defending champion North Stars, who have ran away with the regular-season pennant by leading wire to wire, will face either the Humboldt Broncos, Estevan Bruins or Nipawin Hawks in the best-of-seven quarter-final round set to begin next weekend.
Humboldt has two homes games remaining – Saturday against the Notre Dame Hounds and Tuesday against the Melville Millionaires – and even if they win both of those contests it might not be enough to avoid a showdown with the league’s No. 1 team.
Nipawin needs just one win in its home-and-home set this weekend against the Melfort Mustangs to finish no worse than seventh and the same is true for Estevan as they conclude their regular schedule with a home-and-home series against the Weyburn Red Wings. Nipawin and Estevan enter the final weekend with identical 30-22-3-1 records so depending on what happens this weekend a tie-breaking formula will be needed to get them in their final seedings.
For Flin Flon their playoff future is slightly muddier as even Melfort could fall all the way back to seventh place should they falter against Nipawin this weekend and in a rescheduled game on Monday against the Bombers. For the Mustangs, however, even just one win against the Hawks, or in Monday’s finale in Flin Flon, could give them the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the opening round, but the La Ronge Ice Wolves would have to be swept by the Bombers this weekend in order for that to happen.
Melfort could also finish as high as third overall, but for that to occur, the Viterra Division champion Yorkton Terriers would have to be swept by Melville this weekend. The Millionaires have just one win in their last 10 games and are winless in their last eight and they will finish the season without a permanent head coach as Kyle Adams was relieved of his duties earlier this week.
La Ronge could also finish as high as third overall, but they too would need all the stars to align as not only would they have to sweep Flin Flon in their final games, but they would need Melville to upset Yorkton twice and Melfort to drop at least one of their final three games. Holding off the Mustangs for the fourth seed is their likely goal, but it is a guarantee that Flin Flon won’t be mailing anything in despite having nothing to gain in their final three matches.
SJHL NOTES – RBC Player of the Year and SGEU Most Valuable Player Chantz Petruic of the Yorkton Terriers will put the final touches on his scoring championship this weekend as the 20-year-old veteran has a 19-point cushion in the individual scoring race. Petruic was on pace for a 120-plus point season until he received a six-game suspension earlier this month. As it stands he will have posted one of the best individual results in the league in a decade…With the playoffs looming, regular-season stats can generally be thrown out the window as the preparation level is completely different when knowing you will have just one opponent for as many as the next seven games. With that said, an interesting result from the regular season is the amount of success teams had when needing extra time to decide the outcome of a game. Obviously shootouts no longer come into play so just focusing on overtime decisions the Yorkton Terriers were the most successful winning six of eight games decided in the five-minute extra sessions. Again, this is somewhat tainted as playoff overtimes are played until a winner is decided, but it does show that they have ended a game sooner than the others. La Ronge also won six games in the overtime sessions, but they also lost once more than the Terriers in that format. Surprisingly, Melfort was only successful in two of eight games decided in overtime and Humboldt was slightly better than that going three-for-10…The big reward for playing the long regular season is to get home-ice advantage in the playoffs and the Battlefords have shown that going into the Civic Centre will be tough for opposing teams. The North Stars have lost just three times in regulation time on home ice while outscoring their opponents by 41 goals. Flin Flon has also made it tough for visitors to the Whitney Forum and Yorkton has enjoyed most of their success in front of their own fans. On the road, what stands out most, is that the Battlefords and Flin Flon are the only teams to have scored more than they allowed when in opposing rinks.
Flin Flon at La Ronge
Melfort at Nipawin
Melville at Yorkton
Estevan at Weyburn
Kindersley at Battlefords
La Ronge at Flin Flon
Nipawin at Melfort
Yorkton at Melville
Weyburn at Estevan
Notre Dame at Humboldt
Battlefords at Kindersley
Melfort at Flin Flon
Melville at Humboldt