By Dave Leaderhouse
The Nipawin Hawks will find out in a big way how they stack up against the rest of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League when they take on three of the hottest teams on consecutive nights to highlight a very busy weekend schedule.
Nipawin, which has points in its last eight games and sit six points back of the Sherwood Division-leading Melfort Mustangs, will visit the equally-as-hot Estevan Bruins on Friday followed by a stop in Weyburn on Saturday to take on the surging Red Wings before concluding the gruelling swing on Sunday with a date against the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox.
The Hawks have played just 10 games so far this year and since their only regulation-time loss on opening weekend have racked up seven wins and a shootout loss. In fact, their only blemishes have all come against the Mustangs, who have played three extra games to grab the cushion on top of the Sherwood Division standings.
In Estevan on Friday, the Hawks will face the most explosive team in the league as the Bruins have scored 69 times in just 13 games. Like Nipawin, the Bruins have points in their last eight outings to also build a six-point lead atop the Viterra Division standings, but they too have played three more games in their race with Weyburn.
On Saturday, the Hawks will take on a Red Wings team that has been almost unbeatable on home ice and with five straight victories they have kept the Bruins in their sights for the divisional lead. Weyburn will conclude a five-game homestand with the match against Nipawin and following that contest will take to the road for nine of their next 10 so they will likely be amped up to put on a strong showing in front of their loyal fans.
By the time the Hawks get to Wilcox on Sunday they will have battled against two tough opponents while the Hounds will be rested and waiting for them. Notre Dame has won its last four straight to move to the top of the Olympic Buildings Division standings, but that race is somewhat slanted as just three points separate the four teams with the Battlefords North Stars, who are at the bottom of that group, having played a handful of games fewer than everyone else in the league.
Those North Stars, the only remaining team without a regulation-time loss, have played in just seven games so far and when they host Melfort and the Flin Flon Bombers this weekend it will mark the first time in a month they have played on consecutive nights.
The defending Canalta Cup champions have had just two games this month, but this weekend kicks off a stretch that will see them take to the ice seven times in a 15-day stretch. Despite the lack of activity, the North Stars are just three points back of the Hounds in the divisional race and with six games in hand on Melfort are only nine back of the Mustangs for first place overall giving extra stock to the showdown on Friday.
Other games on Friday have the Bombers taking on the Ice Wolves in La Ronge and the Humboldt Broncos opening a home-and-home set with the Millionaires in Melville. Flin Flon, which has appeared in the last two league finals, has cooled off somewhat picking up just one point in its last five games while La Ronge has just one point in its last eight outings. Humboldt, winners of their last two tilts, are just one point back of Notre Dame in the tight Olympic Buildings Division race, so they will be looking to keep pace with their series against Melville.
Saturday’s schedule has just La Ronge and Notre Dame sitting on the sidelines as in addition to the Nipawin-Weyburn, Flin-Flon-Battlefords and Melville-Humboldt contests, the Mustangs will continue their swing through west-central Saskatchewan with a stop in Kindersley to face the Klippers while the Yorkton Terriers will head to Estevan to meet the Bruins.
The Nipawin-Notre Dame game is the lone Sunday contest.
SJHL NOTES – With Estevan having scored more than 20 goals than anyone else in the league it is not surprising that the top two spots in the individual scoring race are occupied by Bruins. Zach Goberis has been on a tear scoring 16 times and setting up 12 others while teammate Michael McChesney has also been in on a third of the Estevan offence collecting 11 goals and 12 helpers. A pair of Hounds – Chaz Smedsrud and Chance Longjohn – have both recently caught fire with each having posted 12 points in their last half dozen games to move into the top five. Another Hound, Alec Zawatsky, has seven goals and seven assists in the seven games he has played this year…Jake Fletcher of the Bruins has the longest consecutive-point streak with 17 points in 10 games, but the Battlefords’ Layne Young has been sitting on the sidelines with 18 points in the seven games his team has played to date…Melfort netminder Evan Plotnik has been the workhorse in the Mustangs’ goal having played in all but one of the first 13 games and as a result leads the league in almost every goaltending category. Plotnik has nine wins, a 1.80 goals-against-average and a .934 save percentage in 733 minutes of work. The only stat he trails in is shutouts as his one perfect game is one fewer than the two posted by the Battlefords’ Taryn Kotchorek, who has blanked opposing teams twice in just five starts.
Flin Flon at La Ronge
Nipawin at Estevan
Melfort at Battlefords
Humboldt at Melville
Nipawin at Weyburn
Melfort at Kindersley
Flin Flon at Battlefords
Yorkton at Estevan
Melville at Humboldt
Nipawin at Notre Dame