By Dave Leaderhouse
What was once a luxurious penthouse view from the top of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League standings has turned into a crowded second-floor gathering for the Nipawin Hawks with several other teams knocking on the door to push them down even further.
The Hawks, who are the defending Canalta Cup champions, burst out of the gate this season with six straight wins to have an uninhibited view from the top, but two losses in their last three outings has allowed others to catch them with the surprising Humboldt Broncos going one step further to be the lone tenants of the top spot in the overall point’s race.
The Kindersley Klippers and Flin Flon Bombers now share occupancy with Nipawin just below Humboldt while the Melfort Mustangs, Battlefords North Stars and Weyburn Red Wings could all get a better view from the top depending on what happens during a busy weekend schedule.
Nipawin has a tough home-and-home series with the Melfort Mustangs this weekend and should they falter they could find themselves as far down as third place in the Sherwood Division standings as Melfort could overtake them with a pair of victories. However, a Nipawin sweep could move them back to the top, or at the very least, keep them in that growing group that is chasing Humboldt.
The Flin Flon Bombers joined Nipawin on that crowded second level, along with claiming a share of first place in the Sherwood Division race, when they beat the Notre Dame Hounds in Thursday’s lone game. The Bombers, who have points in their last four games, continue a gruelling swing through the south this weekend with stops in Weyburn and Estevan on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
It does have to be noted here, though, that both Humboldt and Flin Flon have played more games than any other team so those that are in the mix for the divisional and overall point’s leads have some games in hand to tighten things up even further.
One of those that has quietly moved onto the second floor is the Kindersley Klippers as three straight wins has them sitting three points behind Humboldt for the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division lead in addition to first place overall. The Klippers will be home to both the Yorkton Terriers and Melville Millionaires this weekend and while a couple of weeks ago that might have sounded like guaranteed points that has all changed as both Yorkton and Melville have been playing much better of late.
Lurking on that third floor, along with Melfort, are the Battlefords North Stars and Weyburn Red Wings.
The Battlefords started the season with losses in three of their first four games, but since then have points in five straight, including four victories. The North Stars also host Yorkton and Melville this weekend and should they have any success they too will be joining the party on the upper floors.
Weyburn has moved into first place in the Viterra Division standings despite having played the fewest games of any team so far. With points in their last three games the Red Wings are two points clear of Yorkton and with home games against the La Ronge Ice Wolves and Flin Flon this weekend they will be looking to expand on that lead and also climb a level in the overall point’s race. La Ronge, however, has won three of its last four games and Flin Flon, as mentioned, has had a strong start to their tough four-games-in-five-nights trip through the south.
Other games this weekend have the Notre Dame Hounds playing in Humboldt on Friday while the Ice Wolves conclude a tough stretch that saw them start with a win in Estevan on Wednesday before playing three games in three nights this weekend with stops in Weyburn on Friday, Estevan again on Saturday and Notre Dame on Sunday.
At the beginning of the season it looked like there was going to be clear separation between the elite and also-rans, but that has all been thrown out the window as every division has at least three teams challenging for top spot and even the bottom clubs in those races are a short winning streak away from making things even more interesting. This weekend could tighten everything up even more.
SJHL NOTES – Flin Flon’s explosive offence has resulted in four players claiming spots in the top 10 in individual scoring as Brandson Hein leads the way with 22 points followed closely by Caleb Moretz with 21. Calvon Boots leads all defencemen with one goal and 15 assists and Daylan Marchi is also averaging more than a point per game with 14 points in 12 games…A pair of Yorkton players have the longest point-scoring streaks this season as Jared Legien has registered at least one point in all nine Terrier games while Branden Klatt has been on the scoresheet in all eight games he has played in. Another Terrier, Aiden Bulych, was blanked in his first two games, but the 16-year-old rookie has reeled off 14 points in his last seven games to easily lead all first-year players in scoring. Two other players on seven-game runs are Justin Ball from Melfort and Boots from Flin Flon…Weyburn continues to possess the best results in both special teams disciplines as they have a 28.2 per cent efficiency on the power play and 89.2 per cent success rate while killing penalties. The opposite end of the spectrum for both is Melville at 14.6 per cent on the power play and La Ronge at 65.6 per cent in penalty killing…A pair of rookies continue to lead the way in netminding stats, but their body of work is substantially smaller than a number of workhorses immediately behind them. Patrick Pugliese from Nipawin has a brilliant 0.97 goals-against average and .966 save percentage in his three starts while Rayce Ramsay from Humboldt sits at 1.64 for goals against and a .957 save percentage, again in just three appearances. By contrast, Justen Close from Kindersley, Riley Lamb from Weyburn, Joel Grzybowksi from the Battlefords, Pierce Diamond from Flin Flon, Declan Hobbs from Nipawin and Dane Dow from the Broncos are all close behind despite having played in as much as 300 more minutes of action for their respective teams.
Melville at Battlefords
Notre Dame at Humboldt
Yorkton at Kindersley
Nipawin at Melfort
La Ronge at Weyburn
Yorkton at Battlefords
La Ronge at Estevan
Melville at Kindersley
Melfort at Nipawin
Flin Flon at Weyburn
Flin Flon at Estevan
La Ronge at Notre Dame