On a weekend when Canadians will be gathering at ceremonies to remember the sacrifices given by those who fought for our freedom in conflicts around the world, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has a full slate of games to bring people together in another way.
All 12 teams are in action on both Friday and Saturday with plenty of storylines jumping out to make the games even more interesting.
The Battlefords North Stars have a pair of tough tests to keep their 13-game winning streak intact as they visit the Sherwood Division-leading Melfort Mustangs on Friday before moving on to Nipawin to take on the always-tough Hawks on Saturday.
The North Stars, who are second-best nationally in the weekly Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings (they trail just the Brooks Bandits who are a perfect 21-0-0-0), have just one loss all season and their 95 goals scored and 46 goals allowed are best by a huge margin. Those results have given the Battlefords a 16-point cushion in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division and also leaves them 11 points clear of Melfort for first place overall. While it is still early in the season, a weekend sweep by the North Stars would put a virtual lock on both of those titles, but that is what makes this interesting: a pair of losses and several teams can close the gap slightly.
Melfort, who also play the Humboldt Broncos on Saturday, would keep the North Stars in their sights with a pair of victories while the Flin Flon Bombers, who are just two points back of the Mustangs, would also remain in contention.
The Bombers could possibly overtake Melfort for the Sherwood Division lead, but they have their hands full with the Chantz Petruic-led Yorkton Terriers in a weekend doubleheader at the Whitney Forum. Petruic has figured in on 59 per cent of the Terriers’ total offence this year and is a big reason Yorkton has points in its last seven games to move to the top of the Viterra Division standings. Petruic has broken away from the pack to lead all scorers with 43 points in 21 games and that total includes 41 points in the last 19 games, a consecutive-game streak that is eight games longer than any other posted this year.
Nipawin, which made a trade with Kindersley this week to bolster its offence with the acquisition of Dawson McKenzie, are also home to Humboldt this weekend in addition to the showdown with the Battlefords. The Hawks are just four points back of Melfort for top spot in the Sherwood Division so this is a big weekend for them as well if they hope to win regular-season and division titles for a third straight year.
If Humboldt has any thoughts of catching the North Stars in the Global Ag Risk Solution race then they need positive results against both Melfort and Nipawin. Should they lose any ground this weekend then their focus will likely have to change to playoff positioning rather than pennant races.
That is the storyline for the teams above the .500 line.
The other six teams below that level also have plenty to play for and in a strange coincidence of scheduling the top teams play each other while the lower-ranked squads go head-to-head.
The La Ronge Ice Wolves, winners of their last two, will be looking to get to that .500 level when they host the Kindersley Klippers in a doubleheader. The Ice Wolves are presently in seventh place overall, but there are just six points separating the bottom six so every game is vitally important to remain in the post-season hunt.
A pair of La Ronge wins would give them 11 on the season, a mark they didn’t achieve until the final week of the regular schedule last year. A Kindersley sweep, however, would push them ahead of the Ice Wolves.
The Notre Dame Hounds enter the weekend in the eighth and final playoff spot and should they have success in their games against the Melville Millionaires and Weyburn Red Wings they too would climb above the .500 mark and solidify their spot in the standings.
Melville also plays the Estevan Bruins this weekend and while a pair of wins wouldn’t get them into the playoff picture just yet it would get them out of the basement and leave them knocking on the door for the final spot. Of course Estevan, which is just one point of clear of the Millionaires at the bottom of the standings, could do the same if they have a successful weekend with home dates against Weyburn and Melville.
Weyburn and Kindersley, naturally, are both in the same situation as the others below the magical .500 line and if everything aligned properly they could both be in playoff positions by the end of the weekend.
While the hockey is important let’s not forget the reason for why there is a Remembrance Day. Having this freedom to enjoy the game is just one result of so many brave men and women. Lest we Forget!
Yorkton at Flin Flon
Kindersley at La Ronge
Battlefords at Melfort
Notre Dame at Melville
Weyburn at Estevan
Nipawin at Humboldt
Yorkton at Flin Flon
Kindersley at La Ronge
Battlefords at Nipawin
Melville at Estevan
Weyburn at Notre Dame
Melfort at Humboldt