In the span of just over a week what once looked impossible now has some traction as a tough five-game road trip has brought the Battlefords North Stars back into sight of those chasing the league leaders.
The North Stars, who had lost just two games in their first 26 outings, were 2-2-1-0 during a southern swing last week and as a result now have the red-hot Flin Flon Bombers breathing down their neck.
The Battlefords still have a commanding 18-point bulge over the Humboldt Broncos for the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division lead, but their advantage for first place overall is now down to 10 points over the Bombers, who have reeled off four straight wins and are 8-2-0-0 in their last 10.
Flin Flon, which has opened up a four-point edge over the Melfort Mustangs for first place in the Sherwood Division, also has a pair of games in hand on the North Stars, which, if capitalized on, closes the gap even further.
The Battlefords play the Kindersley Klippers in a home-and-home set this weekend and with the Klippers having not suffered a regulation loss in their last six outings, the North Stars will have their hands full in trying to get back on track.
The Bombers, meanwhile, play a pair of divisional opponents when they travel to La Ronge to face the Ice Wolves on Friday before returning home on Saturday to face the Nipawin Hawks. Those, too, will be tough games as both the Ice Wolves and Hawks are looking to close the gap in the divisional race with Flin Flon.
Other games on a relatively light weekend schedule include the Viterra Division-leading Yorkton Terriers continuing a swing through the north with stops in Nipawin on Friday and Melfort on Saturday. The Mustangs also host Humboldt on Friday while the Estevan Bruins travel to Melville to face the Millionaires, also on Friday.
The Terriers, who fell 5-4 to La Ronge to open the swing on Thursday, have a comfortable advantage at the top of the Viterra Division leading both Estevan and the Weyburn Red Wings by a dozen points, but the Bruins have five games in hand on the frontrunners.
Melfort needs a strong weekend to keep pace with the Bombers, but if everything were to align properly they could find themselves in a share of the divisional lead by the end of weekend play. The Estevan-Melville game is also significant as both teams are chasing down the final playoff spot, with the bottom five teams separated by just four points for the eighth and final berth in the post-season. Kindersley presently has a grip on that spot, but they are just percentage points ahead of the idle Notre Dame Hounds.
SJHL NOTES – The SJHL will have just Humboldt coach Scott Barney as a representative on Team West at the upcoming World Junior “A” Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C., as the two players who were invited to try out for the team – Nic Porterfield of the Millionaires and Karter McNarland of the Broncos – were left off the final roster. Barney will be one of the assistant coaches when Team West opens play on Saturday against the United States… Flin Flon became just the second SJHL team to get acknowledged on the weekly Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings this year when they received an honourable mention on the latest release. The Battlefords maintained their No. 4 ranking, but that will likely change following their pair of losses this week…Yorkton forward Chantz Petruic retained his two-point-per-game average with a four-point effort in Thursday’s loss to the Ice Wolves. Petruic now has a 14-point lead over a pair of Bombers – Alec Mayo and Cole Rafuse – for the individual scoring lead…Melville’s Zach McIntyre has the longest current consecutive-point streak entering this weekend with nine points in his last eight games. That is a long way off the season best turned in by Petruic, who had 52 points in a 23-game run earlier in the year…While the Battlefords have been dominant all season it is the Bombers who lead the league in a number of categories. Flin Flon has the best winning percentage on the road at .821, best power play overall at 29 per cent which includes a league best 31.3 per cent at home and 26.4 per cent on the road. The Bombers aren’t too shabby killing off penalties either as they have a whopping 95.5 per cent success rate on the road to lead all teams…A couple other numbers to chew on is Weyburn has the best penalty killing success on home ice at 90.4 per cent while the Humboldt Broncos are the only team not to have allowed a shorthanded goal against. Yorkton, Weyburn and the Battlefords have all been unsuccessful just once in not picking up the extra point in overtime or a shootout while on the other hand Melville has collected the additional point just once in seven games that required extra time. For the Millionaires those extra six points are the difference between chasing to holding down a playoff spot.
Estevan at Melville
Flin Flon at La Ronge
Yorkton at Nipawin
Humboldt at Melfort
Kindersley at Battlefords
Nipawin at Flin Flon
Yorkton at Melfort
Battlefords at Kindersley