By Dave Leaderhouse
After a blast of Mother Nature delayed the end of the regular season by a day, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs get underway on Thursday with the first of two Wild Card match-ups taking to the ice when the Kindersley Klippers travel to Weyburn to face the Red Wings.
The other Wild Card round wasn’t finalized until Wednesday when the Melfort Mustangs squeaked into the 10th and final slot and will now take on the Notre Dame Hounds. That best-of-five series is expected to begin on Friday.
Not much separates the Klippers and Red Wings and in a shortened series – best-of-five as opposed to the regular best-of-seven that will prevail for the remainder of the playoffs – it will be the team that wants it most and is better prepared that will likely move on to the quarter-finals.
Kindersley and Weyburn met four times in the regular season with the last time they saw each other being almost two months ago.
The Red Wings claimed the first meeting by a 1-0 decision on Sept. 27 in a neutral-site game played at Warman during the annual Showcase event. Kindersley then routed the Red Wings 8-3 in their first trip into Weyburn on Nov. 4 before the Red Wings emerged with a 3-2 verdict in the final meeting at Crescent Point Place on Dec. 2. In the lone game played at the West Central Events Centre on Jan. 15 it was the Klippers coming out on top by a 5-4 margin.
Both the Klippers and Red Wings are limping somewhat entering the post-season as neither club finished the regular campaign above the .500 mark. Weyburn posted a 25-26-3-4 ledger, but were 3-5-2-0 in their last 10 games including a 0-3-1-0 mark to finish the regular schedule. Kindersley was 25-30-3-0 overall, but they too struggled down the stretch going 2-6-2-0 in their last 10 and rounded out the regular campaign with back-to-back shutout losses to the league-leading Battlefords North Stars.
In the head-to-head match-ups Cody Hodgson led all Kindersley players with one goal and four assists while Clive Rozdeba, Carson Pickett and Sam Binfet also averaged a point-per-game with each collecting four points in the season series. For Weyburn it was Donavon Lumb leading the way with a goal and three helpers with Tyran Brown, Landon Walters, Mike Eskra and Cole Woodliffe chipping in with three points each. It should be noted that Carson Rose of the Red Wings finished the regular season with 22 points in his last 13 games to have the longest active consecutive game point streak heading into the post-season.
Special teams could ultimately decide this series with Kindersley having a slight edge in that department. The Klippers were 7/24 games in the games against the Red Wings while Weyburn was 3/19. Overall, both were in the bottom half for power-play efficiency with Kindersley operating at 17.0% with the man advantage while Weyburn was 16.5%.The Klippers were also slightly better in penalty killing – 82% to 78.4%.
Goaltending, as always is the case in the playoffs, will be huge. Both teams averaged more than 30 shots on the opposing goal during the four head-to-head meetings with Kindersley once again holding a slight advantage 147-130. Justin Close is expected to see most of the action in the Kindersley goal while Carter Phair will likely get the nod for Weyburn.
The biggest advantage in this series is home ice and the Red Wings hold that card. They will look to get an early jump on the Klippers with games on Thursday and Friday at Crescent Point Place before the series switches to Kindersley for dates on Sunday and Monday. Should a fifth and deciding game be needed it will be played back in Weyburn on Wednesday.
The winner of this series will move on to the quarter-finals and face either the Battlefords North Stars or the Flin Flon Bombers. That will be determined from who comes out of the other Wild Card round, but before that is even considered there is plenty of exciting hockey to be played, in a really short window of time, and it all starts on Thursday.