By Dave Leaderhouse
With three weeks remaining on the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular schedule it is that time of the year where the most common analogy to put the playoff pieces in place is “magic number.”
Of the 12 teams in the SJHL just the La Ronge Ice Wolves don’t have one as they were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday when the Melville Millionaires edged the Kindersley Klippers in overtime. The remaining 11 teams all have a line drawn in the sand and each win or loss, by either themselves or those who are chasing them, will ultimately bring the end result closer to a successful conclusion or have it brushed away.
With this being the Family Day long weekend there is a full slate of games on the schedule and every one of those matches will have a bearing on the mathematics of the magic number. Here is what some of the teams are staring at as they head towards the conclusion of another exciting regular season.
Battlefords North Stars – The North Stars have a busy weekend as they play three games in three nights on a southern swing through the province, but before they even suit up in Estevan on Saturday they could be crowned the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division champions for a third straight year. The magic number for that to occur is one and should the Humboldt Broncos lose to the Hawks in Nipawin on Friday then first place in the division is theirs. Ironically, the North Stars will be cheering wildly for Humboldt to end Nipawin’s 29-game run with at least one point as the Battlefords are now just two points back of the Hawks for first place overall and it is looking like a showdown between the North Stars and Hawks on the final night of the regular season could have even more meaning.
Nipawin Hawks – It has been more than three months since Nipawin last lost in regulation time yet they still need a solid finish to lock up both the Sherwood Division and overall titles. Nipawin also plays three times this weekend as they are also home to the Melfort Mustangs on Saturday, in addition to Friday’s match against Humboldt, before heading north on Monday for a date with the Flin Flon Bombers. With the Hawks holding a nine-point lead on the Mustangs for top spot in the Sherwood Division, the magic number to secure the title is down to five, but those two clubs still have three head-to-head tilts remaining including Saturday’s match. And, as mentioned, the battle for first place overall is looking like it is going right down to the wire.
Estevan Bruins – The most explosive team offensively all season has its magic number down to five to secure a second straight Viterra Division title, but with three head-to-head games remaining against the Weyburn Red Wings that race is far from over. The Bruins have won all five previous meetings against the Red Wings this year, but Weyburn is also in a fierce battle with three other clubs to gain a top-six spot and avoid the opening best-of-five Wild Card round.
Humboldt Broncos – While it appears to be a foregone conclusion that they will finish second behind the North Stars in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division, Humboldt’s magic number to secure a top-six spot is now just three. With four straight wins and an 8-2-0-0 mark in their last 10 the Broncos could still catch the Mustangs for fourth place overall and home ice advantage in the quarter-final round, but any combination of Melfort wins or Humboldt losses equalling four puts that out of reach.
Kindersley Klippers – A couple of setbacks earlier this week dampened Kindersley’s charge towards a top-six finish, but they are still in the running for one of those positions as the Klippers hold a number of games in hand on those they are chasing. The battle with Notre Dame and Weyburn, and possibly Estevan should the Red Wings get hot, will go right down to the wire, but the Klippers are in another fight and that is with the Flin Flon Bombers for eighth place overall and home ice advantage in the Wild Card round. Kindersley presently sits six points up on the Bombers and a combination of Klippers wins and Bombers losses totalling seven would settle that issue.
Melville Millionaires – For the Millionaires to secure the final playoff spot all they need is a combination of wins or Yorkton Terriers losses equalling three and they are back in the post-season after a one-year absence. The Terriers and Millionaires square off twice more against each other this season, but by the time that occurs to kick off the final week of the regular schedule in early March it might be too late for those games to even matter.
Every race has a magic number at this time of the year, but the most apparent ones are down to single digits and some of them could be settled as early as Friday. This weekend’s full schedule will undoubtedly bring things more into focus, but so many battles are looking like they are going to need the full schedule to be settled and that makes this time of year so exciting.
Flin Flon at Melfort
La Ronge at Melville
Humboldt at Nipawin
Kindersley at Yorkton
Notre Dame at Weyburn
Melfort at Nipawin
Kindersley at Melville
Battlefords at Estevan
La Ronge at Yorkton
Battlefords at Notre Dame
La Ronge at Yorkton
Melfort at Humboldt
Battlefords at Weyburn
Nipawin at Flin Flon