By Dave Leaderhouse
There is going to be a whole of hockey crammed into the next five days as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League has a full weekend schedule leading up to the inaugural SJHL/MJHL Showcase on Monday and Tuesday in Regina.
For 60 of the league’s top college-eligible players it will be an exhausting stretch, but hopefully it will be a rewarding one. The SJHL/MJHL Showcase was put together to give these players an extra opportunity to display their talents and with what lies ahead in the next few days they will certainly have that and then some.
The weekend schedule has all but two teams playing on back-to-back nights and with the trade deadline having come and gone this will be the first chance for the 12 clubs to move forward with their rosters that will finish the season.
There were a number of moves made at the deadline, but nothing of the earth-shattering kind less the move that sent veteran Nick Shumlanski from the Flin Flon Bombers to the Humboldt Broncos for future considerations. The 20-year-old Shumlanski had played in 155 games with the Bombers and was the club’s leading scorer before the move and his addition to the Broncos is expected to add some scoring punch to a squad that is looking to secure a top-six spot leading up to the playoffs.
The Broncos are in a fierce battle with the Weyburn Red Wings and Notre Dame Hounds to stay above that sixth-place line with just two points separating those three teams. Finishing in sixth place or higher avoids the opening best-of-five Wild Card round, so there is going to be a lot of fierce battles in the future to determine the final seeding for the post-season.
Naturally, everyone wants to finish as high as they can, but both the Broncos and Hounds are fading in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division race as the red-hot Battlefords North Stars have opened up a 10-point advantage thanks to a nine-game run with at least one point.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, have not just staying above that cutline on their minds as they are still within range of the Viterra Division-leading Estevan Bruins. Weyburn enters the weekend six points back of the Bruins while also holding three games in hand.
The final divisional battle is a two-horse race with the Nipawin Hawks now six points in front of the Melfort Mustangs for the Sherwood Division lead, but that race got a whole lot more interesting in the last week despite Nipawin being almost unbeatable lately having collected at least one point in 19 straight games.
Just before Wednesday’s deadline the Mustangs added Ben Allen to their roster, a move that surprised some as Allen spent last year with the Canalta Cup champion North Stars before being moved to Penticton in the offseason. Allen averaged just over a point per game as a 19-year-old rookie with the Battlefords a year ago so his scoring touch will definitely benefit the Mustangs, who are also riding a recent wave of success with victories in their last five outings.
The Mustangs, who trail Nipawin by six points but hold one game in hand, play the struggling La Ronge Ice Wolves in a home-and-home set this weekend while the Hawks will take on the Melville Millionaires on back-to-back nights.
The Battlefords, who are now just five points behind the Hawks for first place overall after a shootout win in Nipawin earlier in the week, will be spending the weekend in Flin Flon for a pair of games against the Bombers. The North Stars have four games in hand on Nipawin and with the way both teams are playing it will all come down to who can maintain their current level of play the longest that will ultimately determine how they finish in the standings.
The Broncos, with Shumlanski in the line-up, face the Hounds in yet another home-and-home series this weekend with the Kindersley Klippers heading south for stops in Weyburn on Friday and Estevan on Saturday. The Yorkton Terriers complete the schedule with their lone game of the weekend when they face the Red Wings in Weyburn on Saturday.
After the dust settles on regular-season play it is on to Regina for 60 of the players. There has been a lot of anticipation for this event since it was announced earlier in the year as the league’s own Showcase at the start of the year offers scouts an initial look at what the talent level is like in the league, but now that nearly two thirds of the schedule is in the books the level of play is expected to be that much higher as everyone will be in peak form.
The format for this showcase is simple: each league will have three teams with one comprising of players born in 1999-2000 while the other two will be made of 19 and 20-year-olds.There will be three games each day with all of the action taking place at the Co-Operators Centre in Regina. Every one of the 12 SJHL franchises will be represented at the event with player selection obviously being difficult as the talent pool continues to grow. Full team rosters are listed on the league website: www.sjhl.ca.
With the Showcase grabbing the spotlight on Monday and Tuesday, regular-season action will be put on hold until next weekend when another full slate of action is scheduled.
Melfort at La Ronge
Nipawin at Melville
Battlefords at Flin Flon
Kindersley at Weyburn
Humboldt at Notre Dame
La Ronge at Melfort
Melville at Nipawin
Yorkton at Weyburn
Battlefords at Flin Flon
Kindersley at Estevan
Notre Dame at Humboldt