By Dave Leaderhouse
Nipawin-Humboldt semi-final not expected to follow a familiar script
Past history indicates that the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League semi-final series between the Nipawin Hawks and Humboldt Broncos shouldn’t even be close. Both coaches say don’t let past history fool you.
“You can’t be overconfident or cocky; they have made a lot of changes and will be a different team,” says Nipawin head coach and general manager Doug Johnson. “The 6-0 record for us (against Humboldt in the regular season) means nothing. When we start on Friday it is 0-0 and what we have to worry about is getting to four wins first.”
“When you look at it, it has been 10 in a row,” adds Humboldt coach and general manager Darcy Haugen in reference to the Hawks not only sweeping the regular-season series this year, but also knocking the Broncos out of last year’s playoffs in four straight games in the quarter-final round. “For us our focus has to be really, really good. Every time we make a mistake against them we are pulling the puck out of our goal.”
Nipawin got to this point by winning both the Sherwood Division and regular-season crowns with a 43-8-3-4 record. Included in that 93-point total was an incredible 30-game stretch where they recorded at least one point.
The Hawks then eliminated the Flin Flon Bombers in five games in the quarter-final round advancing them to their fourth straight semi-final appearance – a level they have stalled at in each of the last three years.
Humboldt, meanwhile, was second in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division with a 33-19-3-3 mark and in the quarter-finals against the Melfort Mustangs they won the last three games to claim the series in five games.
Nipawin dominated the first three games of the season series against the Broncos winning those matches by a combined 18-10 margin. In the final three meetings, however, each game was decided by just a single goal and that trend is expected to continue as both teams have players turning in spectacular performances early in the post-season.
For Humboldt, goaltender Parker Tobin has been sensational posting a 0.99 goals-against average and .968 save percentage since taking over the reigns in the third game against Melfort. Two players who were acquired during the season through the trade route – Jaxon Joseph and Nick Shumlanski – have exploded offensively with Shumlanski leading the way with 10 points followed closely by Joseph’s eight points, a total that includes six goals. Team captain Logan Schatz also turned in a solid performance against the Mustangs collecting eight points, the same number he put up against Nipawin during the regular season. Schatz had by far the largest output against the Hawks, but then newcomers like Shulmanski, Joseph and Bryce Fiske only got into the back end of the season series as they joined the Broncos long after the first three decisive setbacks.
“Parker’s (Tobin) stats certainly make life easy on you,” noted Haugen, “but we have to be extremely disciplined. Our top guys need to be our top producers and our power-play has to be clicking again.”
“We are excited about what we have accomplished so far, but playing against Nipawin is going to be a tall order and we have to take it a day at a time and quite honestly, by each shift,” added Haugen. “The thing that is going to decide this is who wants it more. We have to have more will than the Nipawin Hawks to be successful.”
As was the case in the regular season for Nipawin, Brandan Arnold and Josh McDougall are the catalysts up front while Declan Hobbs is continuing to display the form that led him to being the co-winner of the SaskTel goaltender of the year award. Arnold had six goals and four assists in the series against Flin Flon while McDougall put up 2-6-8 totals. Against Humboldt during the regular season Arnold had seven points in just five games while McDougall, the IBAS defenceman of the year, had a goal and 10 helpers in the six games vs. Humboldt. Hobbs, who won all three of his starts against Humboldt this season, had a 1.32 GAA and .958 save percentage in the series against Flin Flon.
“We have to be ready to play,” says Johnson matter-of-factly. “We have enough pride and experience in the dressing room so that when the puck drops we are an engaged and driven Nipawin Hawks hockey team.”
“The regular season, all it gave us was home-ice advantage and a level of confidence,” added Johnson.
The semi-final round gets under way on Friday in Nipawin with the Hawks looking to get to their first league final since 2001. Humboldt hasn’t been to the championship round since 2013 and their last league title was the year before that in 2012. Nipawin’s only league title dates all the way back to 1990.
The series will continue in Nipawin on Saturday before moving to Humboldt on Tuesday and Wednesday. Subsequent games, if necessary, will be in Nipawin on April 6, Humboldt on April 8 and Nipawin on April 10.