by Dave Leaderhouse
With just over a week remaining on the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular schedule most of the pieces to the playoff puzzle are on the table; now they just have to be put together to form a final picture.
The defending champion Battlefords North Stars will be the No. 1 seed and have home-ice advantage for as long as they are in the post-season. Who they will meet in the first round is still up in the air as a number of clubs could still claim the eighth spot, but as it stands right now it is looking like it will be either the Humboldt Broncos or Estevan Bruins. The Kindersley Klippers still have a small gasp of air in their lungs, but one Estevan win or Kindersley loss ends the Klippers chances of playing beyond the end of the regular schedule.
The La Ronge Ice Wolves, Melfort Mustangs and Nipawin Hawks could all fall back in the standings, but it is highly unlikely that all, or any, will slip that far especially since those three, along with the Yorkton Terriers, are duking it out for top-four finishes to secure home-ice advantage in the quarter-final round.
The three teams that are confirmed to miss out on the post-season – the Melville Millionaires, Weyburn Red Wings and Notre Dame Hounds – could all play spoiler roles this weekend as the Red Wings and Hounds are both in La Ronge and Melfort while the Millionaires face Nipawin and Kindersley. However, should the Ice Wolves, Mustangs and Hawks each pick up a pair of victories then Humboldt can’t finish any higher than seventh and the same goes for Estevan if they fail to have any success in Flin Flon or Nipawin this weekend.
All of those scenarios are the same for the Flin Flon Bombers as they have secured the No. 2 seed and will take on the team with the seventh-best record when the season ends on March 3. The Bombers also host Notre Dame this weekend in the only game on the schedule that has absolutely no bearing on the standings whatsoever.
Yorkton can accomplish two things in their lone tilt this weekend as a win against Kindersley on Friday would not only eliminate the Klippers from the playoff picture, but would also nail down the Viterra Division title. In previous years that would have secured a top-three seeding for the playoffs, but with the changes in place this season it just gives them bragging rights. A win would also guarantee the Terriers would finish no worse than sixth overall, but it would also put them in the driver’s seat to claim a coveted top-four spot and that all important extra home game in the opening round.
If all the smoke and mirrors were to be pushed aside the real determining games left on the schedule occur next weekend when the season wraps up. Nipawin and Melfort go head-to-head in a home-and-home set as do La Ronge and Flin Flon. Just two points separate the Ice Wolves, Hawks, and Mustangs, but Melfort does have two extra games including a make-up match on March 2 with Flin Flon. The Mustangs also have a contest in Yorkton next week so their destiny is in their own hands.
The same can be said for the Terriers as they have the most favourable schedule of all teams as they are home to Kindersley this weekend before hosting Melfort next week and concluding the schedule with a home-and-home against Melville. Should they win at least three of those four games they will finish no worse than fourth. A sweep of all four would secure the No. 3 seed on their own, but any help from those behind them could also help them achieve that goal. Yorkton will also have the league’s top scorer back in the line-up next week as Chantz Petruic completes a six-game suspension this weekend although the Terriers have yet to lose in regulation time without their captain in the line-up.
SJHL NOTES – The Battlefords and Humboldt are both idle this weekend and both will be scoreboard watching as the North Stars will be keeping an eye on who might be their first-round opponent while the Broncos will be watching the Bruins to see if they jump over them in the standings. The North Stars and Broncos return to action on Wednesday when they will meet in Humboldt…Still with the Broncos, team scoring leader Logan Foster has a seven-game streak where he has collected 12 assists and should he set up at least one goal in each of Humboldt’s final three games he would come up one game shy of the best playmaking run this season. Flin Flon’s Alex Malo opened the season with at least one helper in 11 straight games…For those that are curious, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League is also down to its final few games with the Steinbach Pistons and Portage Terriers once again leading the way. Just two points separate those two for top spot and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The SJHL and MJHL champions will meet in the Anavet Cup championship in about seven weeks with the winner of that series moving on to the Centennial Cup presented by Tim Horton’s in Portage la Prairie, Man. This will be the 50th anniversary for the national Junior “A” championship.
Estevan at Flin Flon
Weyburn at La Ronge
Melville at Nipawin
Notre Dame at Melfort
Kindersley at Yorkton
Notre Dame at Flin Flon
Estevan at Nipawin
Weyburn at Melfort
Kindersley at Melville
Notre Dame at La Ronge