By Dave Leaderhouse
Two more playoff seeds can be finalized on Friday when the final week of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular schedule gets underway.
A Nipawin Hawks victory over the Melfort Mustangs or a Battlefords North Stars loss against the Humboldt Broncos in regulation time gives the Hawks first place overall and the No. 1 seed going into the post-season. The Battlefords, last year’s Canalta Cup champions, would then be the No. 2 seed as they have already locked up the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division.
As it stands, the Estevan Bruins, winners of the Viterra Division for a second straight year, are seeded No. 3, Melfort has secured the No. 4 slot and Humboldt is locked into No. 5. Melfort and Humboldt know they will meet in the quarter-final round in about two weeks, but after that everything else is still up in the air.
The Kindersley Klippers have moved into the No. 6 position with consecutive wins on Wednesday and Thursday, but their three-point cushion will be challenged by both the Weyburn Red Wings and Notre Dame Hounds this weekend as the Klippers are idle now until Tuesday while the two pursuing teams each have a pair of games including a crucial head-to-head match on Saturday in Weyburn.
Whoever comes out of that dogfight for the sixth spot will get a bye for the best-of-three Wild Card round while the other two will have home-ice advantage in that shortened series. They will meet the Melville Millionaires and Flin Flon Bombers, but those two still have some jockeying to do as just four points separate them with each team having four games left to play.
Humboldt, Melfort and Notre Dame will be the first teams to complete their regular schedule when they play their final games on Tuesday. Humboldt and Melfort are playing out the string in preparation for their quarter-final match-up while Notre Dame, who were in control of the sixth position until a 2-7-0-1 slide in their last 10 games brought them back to their closest pursuers, will have to wait and see where they finish and who they will meet in the post-season.
Up until a couple of weeks ago it looked like the final game on the schedule, a Battlefords visit to Nipawin would be needed to settle first-place overall, but the North Stars have lost three of their last four while the Hawks have rebounded from a pair of setbacks with three straight wins.
Should the Hawks and North Stars both prevail on Friday the same match-ups – Battlefords against Humboldt and Nipawin against Melfort – could settle the race for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs on Saturday.
Both the Hawks and North Stars will have their hands full this weekend as Nipawin is 2-3-1-2 in eight previous meetings against the Mustangs while the Battlefords, although they have won all four earlier matches against Humboldt, saw all four of those end in 3-2 scores and all four needed extra time to settle the outcome.
Should that race go beyond the weekend, Nipawin is home to the La Ronge Ice Wolves on Tuesday while the Battlefords have a home-and-home series with Kindersley before the top two teams meet on the final night of the regular schedule.
Skipping over to the battle for the No. 6 spot, a Weyburn win over Notre Dame on Saturday would end the Hounds chances of avoiding the Wild Card round as the best they could do is tie Kindersley with wins against Flin Flon and Humboldt in their other games, but the Klippers have owned Notre Dame this year winning five of six meetings between the two.
Weyburn could pull to within a point of the Klippers if they can solve the Estevan Bruins on Friday and then a win against Notre Dame on Saturday would push them past Kindersley leaving just a game against Yorkton on the final night of the season to give them an opportunity to sit out the Wild Card round and set up a quarter-final match-up against the Bruins.
The Red Wings, with points in their last three outings, have lost six of seven previous meetings against Estevan while against the Hounds they have won three of five earlier this season. All of this would be meaningless, however, as Kindersley has their destiny in their own hands should they be able to have any success against the Battlefords in their final two games of the season.
The final battle between Flin Flon and Melville is for pride more than anything. The Bombers, who hold a four-point lead on the Millionaires, finish out their road schedule this weekend with stops in Notre Dame and Estevan before returning home to host Melfort and La Ronge next week. Melville, which has points in its last six games, has home-and-home match-ups against Yorkton and Estevan to conclude the regular season. Regardless of what happens in all of those games they will be the lower seeds in the Wild Card round and will play either Kindersley, Weyburn or Notre Dame.
SJHL NOTES – Battlefords’ veteran Layne Young will officially win the individual scoring race next week as his 17-point lead over Humboldt’s Logan Schatz is likely safe to survive the final week of the regular schedule. Schatz has put up a fight though collecting 20 points in his last nine games, but Young is presently on his third double-digit scoring streak of the season as he has 25 points in his last 12 games. Earlier in the year he had 31 points in a 14-game stretch and 29 more in a 12-game run just before Christmas…The longest consecutive-game streak with at least one point belongs to Nick Shumlanski of the Broncos. He is currently on a 15-game stretch where he has collected 23 points. Nikolas Malenica is also ending the season strong as the Kindersley forward has 18 points in his last 12 outings.
Melfort at Nipawin
Flin Flon at Notre Dame
Yorkton at Melville
Estevan at Weyburn
Humboldt at Battlefords
Nipawin at Melfort
Flin Flon at Estevan
Melville at Yorkton
Notre Dame at Weyburn
Battlefords at Humboldt
Melfort at Flin Flon
La Ronge at Nipawin
Battlefords at Kindersley
Humboldt at Notre Dame
Estevan at Melville
Kindersley at Battlefords
La Ronge at Flin Flon
Weyburn at Yorkton
Melville at Estevan
Battlefords at Nipawin