Dave Leaderhouse |
After a week where the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League rinks were dark due to the annual Sask/Man Showcase being held in Regina, the regular season resumes with a very busy schedule this weekend.
The storyline for the final seven weeks of the regular season is simple: the bottom four teams have to win to get into a playoff position; the middle four teams have to win to hold off the bottom four and possibly gain entry into the top four spots where home-ice advantage for the quarter-final round is a reward; and, the top four have to, well you guessed it, have to win to maintain their present advantage and gain the perks for having a strong regular campaign.
As it stands right now the only thing for certain is that the defending league champion Battlefords North Stars are assured a spot in the post-season –everything else is still up in the air.
The North Stars can settle another couple of issues this weekend should they sweep a pair of home games against the Melfort Mustangs on Friday and Melville Millionaires on Saturday: one win will give them a fifth straight Global Ag Risks Solution Division pennant as the Humboldt Broncos would not be able to catch them and two wins would put eight teams out of reach of chasing them down for a top-four seeding.
If that were to occur all that would be left for the Battlefords over the final 11 games (after this weekend) would be to try and secure home-ice advantage for as long as they are in the playoffs and the only team that would have a realistic chance of preventing that would be the Flin Flon Bombers.
Flin Flon begins the final stretch having played the fewest games of any team and despite that find themselves leading the Sherwood Division and in second place overall. The Bombers have a tough home-and-home set this weekend as they face the hottest team in the league right now with the two-time defending Sherwood Division and regular-season champion Nipawin Hawks having collected points in six straight games.
Nipawin, which finds itself in an uncustomary position of being in the division basement, has outscored its opponents 24-13 during their recent run, but their last game before the Showcase break was a 4-3 overtime setback on home ice to the Bombers. The Hawks right now are in sixth place overall, but they are just two points back of both Melfort and the idle La Ronge Ice Wolves so any kind of success this weekend could move them up the ladder.
With the elimination of the Wild Card round this year leaving just the top eight teams overall qualifying for the post-season, the Yorkton Terriers, who have been runaway leaders of the Viterra Division all season, could still find themselves on the road when the playoffs begin in seven weeks.
Yorkton, which hasn’t played a game since Jan. 14, is one point back of Flin Flon for second overall and their 14-point cushion in the Viterra Division is somewhat slanted as they have played six more games than the second-place Estevan Bruins. But, they have also played seven more than the Bombers so climbing any higher in the playoff seedings might be somewhat of a challenge and they also have to be wary of those behind them as everyone will try and take advantage of games in hand on the Terriers.
The Terriers finally get back to work on Saturday when they host the Weyburn Red Wings, but before that Estevan will try and close the gap in the division race a bit more when they host the Notre Dame Hounds on Friday. The Bruins are also home to Humboldt on Saturday as the Broncos will be smack in the middle of a three-games-in-three-nights swing through the south after visiting Weyburn on Friday before completing the trek in Wilcox on Sunday against Notre Dame.
For the Broncos this weekend is crucial if they have any thoughts of climbing higher in the standings and it is also important if they hope to put further distance between them and those chasing them for a playoff spot. Humboldt enters the weekend in seventh place overall and while catching the Battlefords for the division crown is likely impossible, they are just five points out of a top-four position. However, Estevan has closed to within four points of overtaking them and with the Bruins holding a pair of games in hand they are mathematically deadlocked. The four teams behind those two, the ones that are battling to get back into the playoff picture, could be in jeopardy should Estevan and Humboldt both have successful weekends.
That’s what makes this weekend’s games for Melville, Weyburn, Notre Dame and the Kindersley Klippers even more critical. All four need to put together lengthy winning streaks to remain in the hunt for a post-season berth and the schedule isn’t on their side this weekend as Melville visits Kindersley twice with a date in the Battlefords sandwiched in between while the Klippers also hosts Melfort between their visits by the Millionaires. Notre Dame and Weyburn both entertain Humboldt in addition to travelling to Estevan and Yorkton, respectively, so a lot can happen over the next three days.
SJHL NOTES – The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League won two out of the six games played at the Showcase with two of the losses being by just a single goal…Yorkton’s Chantz Petruic finally gets a chance to add to his league-leading totals this weekend after being idle for almost two weeks. The Terrier captain has a 33-point lead in the individual scoring race and with 101 points in 47 games can register the highest season total in two decades should he put up another half dozen points. The Battlefords Layne Young had 107 points two years ago and before that the highest total posted this century was 111 by Tyler Shantz of the Lebret Eagles in 2000-01…La Ronge’s Kyle Ford has been the league highest-scoring rookie for most of the season, but he now has company in that race as Flin Flon’s Tristan Lemyre has pulled even with 40 points each after collecting 20 points in his last nine games…With the playoff races heating up even more as the season winds down it is interesting to note how teams fare when under pressure. Yorkton, for example, has won nine out of 11 games that have required extra time, while Weyburn has come out on top in six of seven of their games that have gone beyond regulation time. Kindersley has had to play extra time the most so far having 12 of their 43 games being settled either in overtime or in a shootout. For the Klippers they have collected the extra point in just five of those 12 instances which is the difference between them being in a post-season spot or where they presently find themselves – a handful of points back of Estevan for the final berth…One thing to keep an eye on is that after this weekend Melfort will play 10 of its final 14 games on home ice. Flin Flon will also have a favorable home schedule down the stretch, but surprisingly both teams have had better success when playing on the road.
Nipawin at Flin Flon
Humboldt at Weyburn
Notre Dame at Estevan
Melville at Kindersley
Melfort at Battlefords
Flin Flon at Nipawin
Weyburn at Yorkton
Humboldt at Estevan
Melfort at Kindersley
Melville at Battlefords
Humboldt at Notre Dame
Melville at Kindersley