With another very successful Showcase in the rear-view mirror the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League returns to its home arenas for a busy weekend schedule, but the top two teams will continue to take their show on the road as the Nipawin Hawks and Battlefords North Stars have dates in the northern-most outposts when they return to action.
The Nipawin Hawks were perfect during their visit to Warman for the annual Showcase and with victories over the Notre Dame Hounds and Melville Millionaires they improved their record to 6-0-0-0 to start the season. While the unblemished start is impressive what stands out more for the Hawks is the paltry seven goals they have allowed during that span.
Nipawin travels to Flin Flon on Saturday for their lone weekend tilt and while their perfect start has them atop the Sherwood Division and overall points standings, they are not running away with either title.
A Bombers’ win against the Hawks would pull them to within two points of the frontrunners and the Melfort Mustangs, who were blanked on consecutive nights by Nipawin on opening weekend, have reeled off four straight wins to also sit just four points in arrears of the Hawks. The Mustangs, who were also perfect at the Showcase, have a home-and-home set with Notre Dame this weekend so they could make things even more interesting should they sweep the Hounds.
The North Stars have opened defence of their league title with five straight victories, including convincing wins over the Weyburn Red Wings and Flin Flon at the Showcase, but they too aren’t running away and hiding in the ultra-competitive Global Ag Risk Solutions Division.
The Battlefords, who travel to La Ronge to take on the Ice Wolves in a doubleheader this weekend, are just three points clear of the red-hot Humboldt Broncos and four ahead of both the Kindersley Klippers and Notre Dame. Should La Ronge, who picked up its first two wins of the season with triumphs over the Klippers and the Melville Millionaires at the Showcase, surprise the North Stars this weekend then that division could become even tighter.
The Viterra Division is also a tightly packed group, but with Melville sporting just a .500 record they are well back of the pace being set by the other divisional leaders.
The Millionaires are just two points ahead of the Estevan Bruins for that divisional lead and they can expand that advantage to four points when they play the Red Wings in Weyburn on Saturday. Conversely, the Red Wings could climb to the top of the division if they beat the Yorkton Terriers on Friday and Melville on Saturday.
One has to remember that the playoff format has changed this year eliminating divisional winners from becoming the top-three seeds for the post-season. It is the top eight teams overall that will extend their seasons leaving the possibility that one entire division could miss out on the playoffs. While that is an unlikely reality, the early results show that it is a distinct possibility.
SJHL NOTES – Donawan Houle-Villeneuve and Alec Malo have figured in on more than half of the Flin Flon offensive production this year and as a result both are at the top of the individual scoring race with 14 points. Kindersley’s Dawson McKenzie has also been in on more than fifty percent of the Klippers’ offence collecting points on 12 of the 22 goals they have scored…Not surprisingly, the Nipawin tandem of Ethan Slobodzian and Ross Hawryluk are at the top of the goaltending stats with the former leading the way with a sparkling 1.00 goals-against average in four starts while the latter is at 1.50 after his first two appearances. Both also lead the way in save percentage with identical .958 marks…The Battlefords’ Austin Becker has the longest goal-scoring streak intact entering this weekend’s action having tallied six goals in the first five games. Melfort’s Kenzie Arnold also has six goals with those coming in the last four outings…Malo has been the top playmaker as the Flin Flon forward has 10 assists in the Bombers first six games. A group of Mustangs that includes Jake Hobson, Nolan Kadachuk, Alex Rondeau and Lucas Ochitwa all have assists in their last four games with Kadachuk leading that group with seven…Special teams are a big part of any team’s success, or lack thereof, so with Nipawin sharing the lead in powerplay goals scored (with Flin Flon) with 11 and having just allowed two against it is not surprising they are at or near the top in both special team’s categories. On the flip side, Yorkton has just a 3.6 per cent success rate on the power play while their penalty-killing units are struggling at 67.9 percent. That combination has the Terriers with the largest goal differential at -17 and leaves them in the basement of the 12-team league.