By Dave Leaderhouse
It will be the league’s best defence against the No. 1 offensive club when the Melfort Mustangs travel to Estevan to square off against the Bruins in the feature match of a busy Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s weekend schedule.
The Mustangs remain the league’s only unbeaten team, and for good reason, as Melfort has allowed a paltry 14 goals against en route to recording eight straight victories to open the 2017-18 regular season.
After being beaten three times in each of their season-opening wins against the Nipawin Hawks, Melfort has allowed opposing teams just eight goals in their last six outings. As a result, the Mustangs have built a comfortable lead atop the Sherwood Division standings and are three points clear of the Bruins for first place overall.
Offensively, Melfort has netted a respectable 31 goals in their eight starts, but that is a distant second to Estevan, which leads the league with 49 goals scored in their nine games played to date.
The Bruins are being led by the power tandem of Zach Goberis and Michael McChesney who have 22 and 18 points, respectively, with Jake Fletcher (12 points) and Kaelen Holt (11 points) also in the top six in individual scoring. Conversely, the Mustangs’ top scorers are Justin Ball and Adam Hergott with eight points each.
While the Bruins have had little trouble finding the opposing net, keeping the puck out of their own goal has been a challenge as their 34 goals against is second worst in the league with just the Yorkton Terriers having allowed more goals by opposing teams.
After Friday’s tilt in Estevan the Mustangs will continue with their brief southeastern swing when they make a stop in Weyburn on Saturday to face the Red Wings. Although Melfort enters the weekend with a six-point cushion at the top of the divisional standings, they will have to continue putting up points as the Flin Flon Bombers are lurking as the league finalists from each of the last two seasons hold a game in hand and will play host to the Kindersley Klippers for a pair of games this weekend.
The Klippers have been in the far north all week having already picked up a pair of wins in La Ronge before crossing over to Flin Flon for the weekend matches against the Bombers. And, the Nipawin Hawks are also still in Melfort’s rearview mirror as they have two games in hand on the Mustangs and will play a home-and-home series with the Humboldt Broncos this weekend.
The only other games this weekend have the Yorkton Terriers and Melville Millionaires renewing their Highway 10 rivalry. Both of those clubs are off to slow starts with just three wins between them, but again, a strong weekend by either team gets them back in the Viterra Division race, which Estevan currently has a stranglehold on.
The Battlefords North Stars, who have only played six games so far this season and have yet to suffer a regulation-time loss to sit in first place in the Olympic Buildings Division, the Notre Dame Hounds and La Ronge are all idle this weekend.
SJHL NOTES – Melfort netminder Evan Plotnik has played in every second of every game and has a sparkling 1.73 goals-against average and .935 save percentage to sit just behind Flin Flon’s Brenden Newton who has a 1.69 GAA and .944 save percentage…McChesney has the longest point streak going with the veteran forward having registered at least one point each of the Bruins’s first nine games. McChesney has also scored at least one goal in each of the first nine games. The Battlefords’ Layne Young also has points in every one of his team’s contests having put up six goals and 10 assists in the North Stars first six games. Goberis has been held off the scoresheet just once, but his 15 points in the last six games has pushed him to the top of the overall points race and he is also tied for first overall in the entire CJHL with Andrew Petrucci of the Toronto Patriots also having collected 22 points early in the season…Not surprisingly the Mustangs lead the way in special teams having scored 12 times on 41 powerplay opportunities while allowing just one goal in 36 short-handed situations. The Mustangs have also scored four times while playing shorthanded, tops in the league. A peculiar stat in the special-teams section has the Humboldt Broncos being solid while killing penalties having allowed just one power-play against for a 95.2 efficiency rate, but they have also scored just once with the man advantage for a 3.1 per cent success rate.
Kindersley at Flin Flon
Melfort at Estevan
Nipawin at Humboldt
Yorkton at Melville
Kindersley at Flin Flon
Melfort at Weyburn
Melville at Yorkton
Humboldt at Nipawin