The sprint to the finish line is in full stride and with just over three weeks remaining on the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular schedule two teams have already finished the first part of the race.
The defending champion Battlefords North Stars long ago became the first team to secure a spot in the post-season and in the process have already captured a fifth straight Global Ag Risk Solutions Division title. The North Stars, who are home to the Melfort Mustangs and Melville Millionaires this weekend, have a magic number of six to claim the top seed for the playoffs, but the Flin Flon Bombers aren’t giving up that race without a fight.
The Bombers, who stretched their winning streak to five games with road wins in Yorkton and Melville earlier this week, are 11 points back of the front-running North Stars. Flin Flon has two games in hand on the Battlefords and those two teams get together for a doubleheader next weekend at the Whitney Forum where the race for first can either be settled or turned up a notch higher.
Flin Flon’s success earlier this week not only added to their current winning streak, but it also guaranteed them a spot in the post-season as the bottom four teams can no longer catch them. The Bombers will be looking to add to their totals this weekend when they continue their road swing with stops in Notre Dame on Friday and Estevan on Saturday.
The Nipawin Hawks don’t play this weekend, but with two wins in a three-games-in-three-nights swing through the south during the week they moved into third place overall and now have a magic number of three to secure a post-season berth. Any combination of Nipawin wins or Kindersley Klippers losses totalling that number will give the Hawks a spot in the playoffs for a ninth straight season.
The La Ronge Ice Wolves are also idle this weekend, but they too will be watching what happens in Kindersley as the magic number for La Ronge to secure a playoff spot for the first time in four years is now down to four after the Ice Wolves beat Melfort in overtime on Wednesday. With the Klippers home to both Melville and Melfort this weekend that number could either shrink or remain static, but Kindersley desperately needs the points as they are now five back of Estevan for the final playoff spot.
Melfort and Yorkton also have their magic numbers down to a handful to secure a spot in the post-season, but they are also both in a heated battle with Nipawin and La Ronge to capture a top-four spot and home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The Mustangs can set the table nicely for themselves with a strong weekend in the Battlefords and Kindersley as seven of their last nine games after this weekend will be on home ice.
For the Terriers, playing just one game in over three weeks has allowed others to catch them in the standings, but they can move closer to finalizing post-season plans when they host the Weyburn Red Wings on Friday. Those two teams will also play a make-up game on Monday as the original match was postponed due to inclement weather.
Yorkton, which at one time had a 16-point bulge on Estevan for the Viterra Division lead, now only holds a six-point cushion in that race. While winning a division title has no real perk other than gaining a banner to hang from the rafters (previous years had division winners being seeded in the top-three spots for the opening round of the playoffs, but that was changed with the elimination of the Wild Card round this year), there is the satisfaction of finishing ahead of everyone else in that group and ultimately provides some confidence for the playoffs.
One other game this weekend has the Humboldt Broncos at home to Weyburn on Saturday with the Broncos still very much in the race for a top-four seeding, but also looking over their shoulders at the surging Estevan Bruins and Kindersley for the eighth and final post-season berth.
Melville and Weyburn desperately need to win both of their games this weekend or their post-season pulse will become very shallow. Should they both get swept this weekend, and if Estevan were to pick up two points in their lone outing, then they will be down to their last lifeline with the Red Wings’ season hanging in the balance in that rescheduled game on Monday against the Terriers.
Notre Dame is also up against the wall, but they too need to put together a long winning streak and hope for others to falter in order for them to make plans beyond the end of the regular schedule. Kindersley controls its own destiny, but this weekend is as big as it gets. Two wins and they keep Estevan and Humboldt in their sights. Anything less than that and the hill becomes even steeper.
SJHL NOTES – Flin Flon’s Tristan Lemyre is running away with the rookie scoring race after potting 15 points in his last nine games. Lemyre, who recently committed to the University of Denver for next season, is now seven points ahead of La Ronge’s Kyle Ford…One has to be slightly bemused with the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s weekly rankings as the Battlefords dropped four spots to No. 8 overall last week despite winning both of its games and ultimately stretching their winning streak to seven before falling in Humboldt this past week. Flin Flon, meanwhile, has won nine of its last 10 and only garnered an honourable mention…Despite only playing the one game in over three weeks Yorkton’s Chantz Petruic remains comfortably in front in the individual scoring race as the 20-year-old holds a 21-point advantage over Flin Flon’s Alec Malo. Petruic, who has 28 points in his last 10 games, picked up two more in Tuesday’s loss to the Bombers and with nine more points over the final 10 games will become the league’s most prolific single-season scorer in two decades…Fans are reminded that there is now less than a month to purchase your tickets for the SJHL/Stars 50-50 draw. Tickets can be purchased on the league website with proceeds from the event going to very worthwhile causes.
Weyburn at Yorkton
Melville at Kindersley
Melfort at Battlefords
Flin Flon at Notre Dame
Flin Flon at Estevan
Weyburn at Humboldt
Melfort at Kindersley
Melville at Battlefords