By Dave Leaderhouse
Two months into the current Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season the defending Canalta Cup champion Battlefords North Stars finally make an extended road trip as they take a swing through the south and eastern portions of the province.
The North Stars, who played 10 of their first 15 games on home ice, will follow a Wednesday game in Wilcox against the Notre Dame Hounds with stops in Estevan on Friday, Weyburn on Saturday and Yorkton on Sunday. The trip got off to an unceremonious start, however, as the Hounds skated to a resounding 5-1 victory to extend their streak to five games (3-0-0-2) with recording at least one point.
The Battlefords’ schedule has been intriguing as they have played as many as seven fewer games than others in the league yet they are still just five points out of the Olympic Buildings Division lead and seven back of the front-running Melfort Mustangs.
The team they are chasing in the Olympic Buildings Division race, the Humboldt Broncos, are also making a brief swing through the south east this weekend as they will be in Weyburn on Friday and Estevan on Saturday. Humboldt had points in seven straight games prior to Wednesday’s surprising 4-2 setback to the La Ronge Ice Wolves on home ice.
La Ronge, which won its first road game in nearly a year (they beat the Millionaires 3-2 in Melville last Dec. 3 –they also beat the Millionaires 2-1 in a shootout at the Showcase in Saskatoon this year, but they were listed as the home team), is now one of the hottest teams in the league with points in its last four games and that technically could be five when a postponed game against Notre Dame from Oct 29 is completed in January with the Hounds ahead 4-3 (game was called due to a power outage).
The Ice Wolves continue with their extended road trip this weekend when they take on Notre Dame on Friday before heading to Melfort on Saturday to face the league-leading Mustangs.
The Mustangs have bounced back somewhat with points in their last four games after a little lull followed a red-hot start that saw them win their first eight games of the season. Melfort, which now holds a five-point lead on the Nipawin Hawks for first place in the Sherwood Division standings, will also host the Kindersley Klippers on Friday.
Kindersley has quietly put up one of the better records in their last 10 games (6-2-1-1) to keep the Olympic Buildings Division the tightest of the three divisional races with just seven points separating all four teams. Kindersley also owns a number of games in hand on most other teams in the league so the Mustangs will have to be prepared for a good match when the Klippers come to the Northern Lights Palace on Friday.
The Viterra Division has been a season-long battle between Estevan and Weyburn and with both of those clubs playing host to their northern visitors – Humboldt and the Battlefords – this weekend the deadlock could remain or one of them could break away with solid performances if the other should falter.
Two other games this weekend have the Flin Flon Bombers visiting the Hawks in Nipawin on Friday while Melville will take on the Notre Dame Hounds in Grenfell.
Not so long ago it looked like there was a very visible line down the middle with half the teams having their way with the other half, but that has changed recently with the improved play of La Ronge, Kindersley, Melville and Notre Dame. Flin Flon has too much talent to be held back much longer and the Yorkton Terriers have a new coach in Matt Hehr so maybe that club will turn a corner after a disappointing start that has seen them win just three times in their first 21 games.
Yorkton will have to wait until Sunday for Hehr’s debut as the official head coach and general manager when they will host the North Stars at the end of their busy four-games-in-five-nights road swing.
Flin Flon at Nipawin
La Ronge at Notre Dame
Kindersley at Melfort
Humboldt at Weyburn
Battlefords at Estevan
Melville at Notre Dame
La Ronge at Melfort
Battlefords at Weyburn
Humboldt at Estevan
Battlefords at Yorkton