None of the three SJHL division pennants were decided by more than four points, as the Nipawin Hawks, Battlefords North Stars and Estevan Bruins all came out on top in tight races down the stretch, claiming the top three playoff positions.
Two of those three races came down to head to head matchups in the final week, including one on the final night of the regular season.
The Battlefords North Stars spent very little time at the top of the Global Ag Risk Solutions standings, but they were at the top when it mattered most, passing the Kindersley Klippers on the final weekend, before winning head to head in Game 58, in overtime to preserve it.
“That final game was one I’ll never forget,” says North Stars’ Coach & GM Brayden Klimosko. “Two rivals battling it out, it was a great crowd and great energy. That pennant was definitely a goal and we had a sense it was within our grasp down the stretch. We needed to beat Kindersley in the middle of February to have a chance, and we were also fighting that whole time to stay out of 7th. Having home ice in the playoffs is important and we knew the only way to guarantee that was winning the division.”
The North Stars will take on the Flin Flon Bombers in their SJHL Quarter-Final, and Klimosko says both environments are hostile and have big crowds especially this time of year, which should make for a great atmosphere in both rinks.
The Estevan Bruins finished the regular season on as hot a streak as anyone, making a late season charge to claim their third consecutive Viterra Division crown. At around Christmas the Yorkton Terriers had the inside track on the division, with a near double digit points lead and games in hand, but the Bruins stayed consistent down the stretch.
“We had some tough stretches this season,” says Bruins Head Coach & GM Chris Lewgood. “Through it all our group was able to keep our heads above water grow closer as a team. Overcoming some adversity this regular season and getting that Viterra Division title is rewarding, but there’s no real value in that unless we’re able to take advantage of home ice and win this series against Humboldt.”
The Nipawin Hawks led the Sherwood Division from day one, almost pillar to post, but went back and forth with the Melfort Mustangs over the last few weeks and it came down to a home and home on the final weekend of the regular season, where the Hawks picked up three of a possible four points, and then took care of business in their regular season finale to secure the top seed, with their second consecutive Sherwood Division, and league pennant, despite losing the vast majority of their core from a year ago.
“We definitely exceeded our expectations this regular season,” says Hawks’ Coach & GM Doug Johnson. I remember telling our guys after our last exhibition game that we’ll be a very good team but thought it would take some time to gel and buy in. Credit the players, especially the leadership group to have everyone buying in right from the start. Goaltending has been a huge key but this is also one of the hardest working groups I’ve ever been around.”
The Hawks will face the winner of Tuesday night’s Game 3 between the Yorkton Terriers and Notre Dame Hounds, in their Quarter-Final matchup which should begin Friday in Nipawin as the Hawks look to defend their Canalta Cup title from a year ago.
The only Quarter-Final that does not feature a division pennant winner is the 4th vs 5th matchup between Melfort and Kindersley. The Mustangs and Klippers were actually tied for fourth in the standings with the Mustangs having the tie-breaker, thanks to a league-high 35 Regulation plus Overtime wins. The Mustangs were second place in the Sherwood Division, three points back of Nipawin, while the Klippers ended up two points back of Battlefords in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division.