By Dave Leaderhouse
There are only a handful of occasions all season when all 12 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League teams take to the ice at the same time and Friday night is one of them as a full slate of games kicks off the Remembrance Day long weekend.
And, as has been the case since opening night, each game will have a bearing on the standings as all three divisions have fierce battles among the leaders while the overall point’s race is a dogfight with just nine points separating the top nine teams in the league.
The Estevan Bruins have caught fire of late winning their last four games and as a result they are now on top of the Viterra Division standings – one point ahead of the Yorkton Terriers. The Bruins, who have struggled somewhat on the road with just three wins in nine road starts, will be put to the test this weekend as they play three games in three nights away from the friendly confines.
Estevan begins their west-central trek with a stop in the Battlefords to play the North Stars before moving on to Kindersley to face the Klippers and then winding things up with a date in Humboldt on Sunday to take on the league-leading Broncos.
The Bruins have rediscovered their scoring touch during the recent winning streak as they have outscored their opponents 22-11 during the last four games. They will need to continue that offensive domination not only to try and pull away from Yorkton, who holds a pair of games in hand on the Bruins, but also to deny all three of their Global Ag Risk Solutions Division opponents an opportunity to gain ground in their respective divisional race.
Just five points separate the Broncos, Klippers and North Stars with the Notre Dame Hounds lurking just two points back of the Battlefords. In addition to each playing Estevan this weekend, Kindersley and the Battlefords also welcome the Melville Millionaires while Humboldt will entertain Yorkton in their other match.
While Estevan invades the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division the Sherwood Division will take care of things in house as the Flin Flon Bombers face the La Ronge Ice Wolves in a home-and-home set while the Nipawin Hawks and Melfort Mustangs will do the same.
Nipawin, with the stingiest defence in the league having allowed just over two goals per game, is the hottest team in the league at the moment having collected a point in their last seven games. As a result of that run they have opened up a three-point lead on Flin Flon atop the Sherwood Division standings, but the Bombers do hold one game in hand. Melfort, with two games in hand on the front-running Hawks, could tighten things even further in that division should they claim a pair of victories over Nipawin this weekend.
One other set of games on the schedule has Notre Dame and the Weyburn Red Wings squaring off in a home-and-home set of sorts as they will play in Weyburn on Friday before heading to Moosimin on Saturday for a neutral-site game. Notre Dame could muddy the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division even further with a strong weekend while Weyburn is in a battle for the last playoff spot as just two points separate the bottom three teams – La Ronge, Melville and Weyburn.
While the hockey is always a focal point one can’t forget what this weekend is all about. It is 100 years ago on Sunday when World War I ended and that, along with every other major conflict that has taken place, has to be remembered as so many gave their lives for this great country to enjoy the freedom we at times take for granted. Lest we forget!
SJHL NOTES – Funeral services for Humboldt’s life-long ambassador, Elgar Petersen, will be held Saturday. Petersen passed away last weekend at the age of 82…When Flin Flon’s Brandson Hein joined the Bombers just after the calendar flipped to 2018 he made an immediate impact scoring 11 times in 19 games to end the 2017-18 regular season. The former Everett Silvertip has doubled that output in the first 19 games of the current campaign as Hein leads all goal scorers with 22 and his 36 total points is two better than Yorkton Terrier veteran Jared Legien. Hein’s teammate Nate Hooper is the top playmaker with 22 assists to sit third overall with 31 points…Hein’s output has been bolstered by 10 goals in his last six games, the longest consecutive goal- scoring streak of the season. Estevan’s Bryce Platt has a four-game run intact entering the weekend where he has eight points including four goals…Melfort’s Justin Ball was held off the scoresheet in the Mustangs second game of the season, but since then he has been a consistent producer having racked up 27 points in the last 16 games. Hein, Hooper, Vincent Nardone and Chrystopher Collin, all members of the Bombers, will all be looking to extend lengthy streaks of their own as Hein has points in his last nine games, Nardone is on an eight-game run and Collin and Hooper are in the midst of seven-game stretches. Two of their opponents from La Ronge this weekend – Zach Bannister and Mitch Zambon – are also on long runs with Bannister having collected 15 points in his last eight games while Zambon has 10 in the last six outings…Last year’s co-winners of the SaskTel top goaltender of the year award are leading the way in goaltending statistics again this year. Nipawin’s Declan Hobbs has a sizzling 1.95 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in 14 appearances while Justen Close from the Klippers is right behind at 2.03 and .928 in 15 games. The only real difference between the two is that Hobbs leads the league with four shutouts while Close has yet to record a perfect game. Humboldt’s Dane Dow has been the busiest netminder having played in just under 1,000 minutes and collecting the most wins at 10…As the season rounds the corner towards the half-way point there have been 21 of 122 games requiring extra time. That is just a fraction of a percentage point behind last year when 64 of 348 regular season games were settled in overtime or by a shootout.
Estevan at Battlefords
La Ronge at Flin Flon
Yorkton at Humboldt
Melville at Kindersley
Melfort at Nipawin
Notre Dame at Weyburn
Melville at Battlefords
Estevan at Kindersley
Flin Flon at La Ronge
Nipawin at Melfort
Weyburn at Notre Dame (neutral site in Moosimin)
Estevan at Humboldt