By Dave Leaderhouse
They are not only the two hottest teams in the league at the moment, but when the Notre Dame Hounds take on the Battlefords North Stars on Friday, first place in the Olympic Building’s Division is also on the line.
A share of first place overall is also possible for the Hounds as a win against the two-time defending regular-season champion North Stars would bring them even with the idle Melfort Mustangs, who not only lead the Sherwood Division standings, but are the top team overall with a record of 16-5-3-1.
The Hounds are 6-0-0-2 in their last eight games and as a result hold a one point lead on the North Stars for the divisional lead while also creeping to within a pair of the Mustangs. The Battlefords, however, have the best winning percentage as their current four-game winning streak gives the North Stars a record of 16-3-1-0 and a handful of games in hand on both the Hounds and Mustangs.
Melfort, which had a six-game point streak of its own snapped on Wednesday when they fell 3-2 to the Yorkton Terriers, will look to maintain their top perch when they host the Estevan Bruins on Saturday while the Hounds and North Stars also return to action that night when Notre Dame is in Kindersley to take on the Klippers and the Battlefords visit the Broncos in Humboldt.
The Hounds and North Stars aren’t the only teams breathing down the necks of the Mustangs as the Nipawin Hawks are also within striking distance thanks to wins in their last three outings. The Hawks, who also hold three games in hand on the Mustangs, play the La Ronge Ice Wolves this weekend in a home-and-home series and should they sweep their northern rivals and have Melfort falter at home to the Bruins, then the Sherwood Division race will be down to just a single point separating the Mustangs and Nipawin.
When the Bruins visit Melfort on Saturday it will conclude a gruelling stretch which has seen them make a pair of four-game swings through the northern part of the province in November. Earlier this month they went 2-2 on their first trip and entering this weekend they are 1-1 this time around with a stop in Flin Flon to play the Bombers on Friday preceding the game in Melfort on Saturday.
Despite the difficult schedule the Bruins have held their own and have even recaptured a slim two-point lead over the Weyburn Red Wings for the Viterra Division lead. That lead can be extended with any kind of success this weekend as the Red Wings are the lone team not scheduled to play this weekend.
The only other games this weekend have Yorkton and the Melville Millionaires renewing their Highway 10 rivalry with a home-and-home series on Friday and Saturday. The Terriers, with new head coach and general manager Matt Hehr at the helm, won their first game in a month with the aforementioned decision over Melfort. That win ended an eight-game slide for the last-place Terriers. Melville, meanwhile, has seen its play improve considerably in the last month posting a 5-5-0-0 record in its last 10 games and as a result have a six-point lead over the La Ronge Ice Wolves for the final playoff berth. Yorkton is just two points back of the Ice Wolves so that race could heat up entering the final half of the regular schedule.
As is the custom, there are no games scheduled on Grey Cup Sunday.
SJHL NOTES – What was once a two-man race in the individual scoring race with Estevan snipers Zach Goberis and Michael McChesney exploding out of the starting gate has now become a fierce battle with 10 points separating the top nine scorers. Goberis is still the man to catch as his 22 goals and 18 assists leads all scorers, but Layne Young of the North Stars is now within two points while Notre Dame’s Chance Longjohn, with 12 points in his last five games, is one point back of Young… In the last seven games the Hounds have played they have allowed opposing teams just seven goals. As a result, Jacob Standen has seen his individual numbers improve dramatically as he now has the second-best goals-against average at 2.12 and save percentage at .926. Nipawin rookie Jake Anthony leads both of those categories with a 1.82 GAA and .932 save percentage…Notre Dame and Humboldt have played the most home games to date at 15 each leaving the remainder of their schedule a bit top-heavy with road dates. The Hounds have taken full advantage of the early schedule winning their last 10 on home ice for a 12-2-0-1 record overall at the Duncan McNeill Arena. Included in that recent run on home ice is a pair of neutral-site games in Midale and Grenfell.
Nipawin at La Ronge
Estevan at Flin Flon
Melville at Yorkton
Notre Dame at Battlefords
La Ronge at Nipawin
Estevan at Melfort
Yorkton at Melville
Battlefords at Humboldt
Notre Dame at Kindersley
No games scheduled