The Melville Millionaires, Humboldt Broncos and Kindersley Klippers have already headed home for the holidays, but the other nine teams all still have some work to do before they get a much-needed rest as the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League winds up its pre-Christmas schedule with a handful of games this weekend.
All four teams in the Sherwood Division are on the ice both Friday and Saturday with the Nipawin Hawks and Melfort Mustangs engaging in a home-and-home set while the Flin Flon Bombers have the same setup with the La Ronge Ice Wolves.
The Bombers will be looking to build on their seven-point advantage in the divisional standings while at the same time trying to keep the league-leading Battlefords North Stars within reach. The Battlefords, who will complete their schedule with a match against the Notre Dame Hounds on Friday, are 10 points clear of the Bombers in the overall standings, but Flin Flon has three games in hand on the frontrunners.
Always a spirited rivalry between the league’s two most northern entries, this year has taken on a new twist as the Ice Wolves have moved from being a perennial basement dweller to a serious threat on each and every night.
In fact, the Ice Wolves enter the weekend as the league’s hottest team having picked up points in six straight games and should they have a successful series with Flin Flon could find themselves as high as third place overall before the break.
A lot would have to happen for that to occur, but the bottom line is the first part of the schedule has been nothing but an unmitigated success for the Ice Wolves.
The same can be said for the Bombers who made a statement last weekend when they blasted the North Stars 10-1 in North Battleford. Flin Flon is by far the most explosive team in the league having averaged 4.56 goals per game and with their team defence having turned a corner they are going to be tough to beat heading down the stretch.
The Nipawin-Melfort matchup this weekend is interesting on a couple of fronts. Melfort trails the Bombers by seven points, but they are looking over their shoulders at the surging Ice Wolves while Nipawin, the regular-season champions in each of the last two years, are just two points clear of both Kindersley and Notre Dame for the final playoff spot although they, too, have a number of games in hand on those chasing them.
Two other games this weekend feature Viterra Division squads with the division-leading Yorkton Terriers hosting Weyburn on Friday before heading to Estevan on Saturday to take on the Bruins.
The Terriers have also been on a roll of late winning their last four games and with that they have opened up a 16-point advantage over Estevan in the divisional standings. The Bruins, however, have played a league-low 32 games so with six games in hand by the time those two square off on Saturday they will be looking to claw their way back in a crucial head-to-head match with the Terriers.
While Yorkton is comfortably in front in the Viterra Division race they still have to be aware of those behind them in the overall standings as the top four teams get home ice advantage when the playoffs begin. That is different from previous years when divisional champs got the top-three seeds and that change has made races more intense throughout the entire season.
The league will take a nine-day break after Saturday’s action with Yorkton and Estevan getting the shortest break as the Terriers will begin a traditional Highway 10 rivalry with Melville on Dec. 30 while the Bruins will face their closest rival, Weyburn, in another home-and home set also beginning on Dec. 30. Both of those matchups will once again be on the ice on New Year’s Day with the remaining clubs getting back to work on Jan. 3.
The SJHL executive and staff would like to take this opportunity to wish all the teams, fans, sponsors and volunteers a very happy and safe holiday season and thank them for their continued support.
SJHL NOTES – Yorkton’s Chantz Petruic’s four-goal performance on Tuesday pushed the league’s leading scorer’s totals to 42-33-75 in just 37 games. That’s 14 points better than a pair of Bombers, Cole Rafuse and Alec Mayo, and while it raised his points-per-game average to above two it also has him figuring in on 59 per cent of the Terriers total offence. Petruic is likely to shatter that 50 goals in 50 games barrier that at one time seemed impossible to achieve…The Battlefords dropped one spot to No. 9 in the weekly Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings this week with Flin Flon maintaining its position at No. 19…Two SJHL players – Mac Gross from Kindersley and Ryan Ouellette from Yorkton – will be heading to Hamilton, Ont., in January for the annual Top Prospects Game. They are among the 40 top players from the CJHL that have been recognized by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau leading up to the entry draft next June…Petruic and Rafuse enter this weekend’s action with the longest current point streaks intact as Petruic has 19 points in his last eight games while Rafuse has the same number of points in one fewer game. The streaks are still a long way from the 23-game run that Petruic had earlier in the season…Not surprisingly the Battlefords have accumulated the most points both at home and on the road, but Flin Flon is percentage points ahead of the North Stars for the best mark while playing away from the friendly confines. With four overtime losses in their games in other rinks that mark could be even better…Just two teams – Kindersley and Melville – have losing records when playing at home while nine teams are .500 or lower when on the road. The Battlefords, Flin Flon and Melfort are the only teams with records above the break –even mark both at home and away.
Flin Flon at La Ronge
Nipawin at Melfort
Weyburn at Yorkton
Notre Dame at Battlefords
La Ronge at Flin Flon
Melfort at Nipawin
Yorkton at Estevan