By Dave Leaderhouse
The Battlefords North Stars have to be getting just a bit tired of practising as the early Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League schedule has seen them sit on the sidelines for extended periods while other teams pile up the games.
The defending Canalta Cup champions have played just once in October and when they take to the ice against the visiting Melville Millionaires on Friday it will be their first match in 10 days. The North Stars, who now find themselves in second place in the tightly-packed Olympic Buildings Division despite holding a multitude of games in hand on everyone, will then have another week off before they return to action next Friday.
Not overly surprising then, the Battlefords remain the only team not to have suffered a regulation-time loss as they have picked up five wins and an overtime setback in their six games played to date and a win against Melville will vault them past the Notre Dame Hounds back into top spot in the division.
Once the North Stars get through this next week off they will be busy with six games in 12 days including their first road game in more than a month as they have enjoyed home cooking since returning from the annual Showcase held in Saskatoon in late September.
When they get their legs back under them, the North Stars will have some ground to make up on the other divisional leaders as the Melfort Mustangs and Estevan Bruins are both eight points clear of the Battlefords in claiming comfortable leads in the Sherwood and Viterra Divisions, respectively.
The Mustangs got back in the win column on Wednesday with a convincing 8-1 decision over the Millionaires and they will look to build another lengthy streak similar to the eight straight wins they had to open the season when they square off against the Humboldt Broncos in a home-and-home series beginning on Friday at the Northern Lights Palace in Melfort.
Estevan, meanwhile, recorded a point in their seventh straight game when they doubled the visiting La Ronge Ice Wolves on Thursday and they will try and extend that streak to eight when they host the Flin Flon Bombers on Sunday.
Two other teams that have been relatively idle early in the season, the Nipawin Hawks and Weyburn Red Wings, also get back to work this weekend with Nipawin hosting the Yorkton Terriers in their lone game on Friday while the Red Wings welcome Flin Flon on Saturday and La Ronge on Sunday.
The Hawks and Red Wings are both well back of their respective divisional leaders as a result of the inactivity, but both have put together impressive steaks when they have been playing. Nipawin, who enters the weekend seven points back of Melfort with three games in hand, have five wins and a shootout loss in their last six starts, while Weyburn, who is eight points in arrears of the front-running Bruins with four games in hand, have won their last three straight.
Two other games this weekend have both Notre Dame and the Kindersley Klippers looking to keep the Olympic Buildings Division race even tighter when they host La Ronge and Melville, respectively, on Saturday. Just one point separates all four teams in the Olympic Buildings Division so putting up wins is imperative for all four, especially for Humboldt, Notre Dame and Kindersley, who as mentioned, have all played a handful of games more than the North Stars.
La Ronge will be looking to salvage something out of their gruelling swing through the south as they have dropped their first two games in Weyburn and Estevan and will now face Notre Dame before heading back to Weyburn to complete a four-games-in-five-nights stretch. Flin Flon is also touring the southern portion this weekend and after dropping their opening match in Notre Dame on Thursday will be trying to bounce back with stops in Weyburn and Estevan on Saturday and Sunday.
SJHL NOTES – The Estevan tandem of Zach Goberis and Michael McChesney are threatening to run away with the individual scoring race, but the Battlefords’ Layne Young will undoubtedly make that a three-player race once the North Stars get back to work on a regular basis. Goberis has an impressive 13 goals and 12 assists in 12 games with McChesney racking up 11 goals and 10 helpers in the same amount of games. Young, meanwhile, has six goals and 10 assists in just six games so he can climb back into that race in a hurry if he continues with his torrid start…Going into this weekend, Estevan’s Jake Fletcher has the longest current consecutive point streak with 15 points in his last nine games. McChesney also had a nine-game stretch earlier in the season when he put up 18 points in that span. Nipawin’s Michael Grant is also on a healthy run with at least one point in each of the Hawks’ first eight games. Grant has seven goals and four assists to start the season while teammate Josh McDougall has 14 points in the last six games…Notre Dame’s Alec Zawatsky was not in the Hounds’ line-up for the first four games to start the season and after being held off the scoresheet in his initial match he has put up six goals and five assists in the last five games. That five-game stretch with at least one goal is the longest current streak in the league…Special teams continue to be dominated by the Melfort Mustangs as they have the most explosive power play at 29.4 per cent efficiency while also leading the way in killing off 92.2 per cent of man-disadvantage situations. Conversely, Melville’s early woes can be largely attributed to their work in these areas as the Millionaires are at just 10.2 per cent with the man advantage while killing off penalties is a league low 69.6 per cent.
Yorkton at Nipawin
Melville at Battlefords
Humboldt at Melfort
Flin Flon at Weyburn
La Ronge at Notre Dame
Melfort at Humboldt
Melville at Kindersley
La Ronge at Weyburn
Flin Flon at Estevan