Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Time running out for those in the chase for a playoff spot

If the Melville Millionaires, Notre Dame Hounds and Weyburn Red Wings have any thoughts of playing hockey beyond the end of the regular schedule, which ends in just over four weeks, then putting together lengthy winning streaks has to start now or time will run out for all three sooner than later.

All three teams are nine points or more behind the Estevan Bruins in the chase for the eighth and final playoff spot and with just over a dozen games remaining the mathematics of qualifying for the post-season just isn’t on their sides.

Melville has the biggest hill to climb as they are 14 points behind the Bruins and with just two wins in their last 10 games that hill appears to be a lot bigger. The Millionaires have just one game this weekend when they travel to Wilcox to face the Hounds and they haven’t won a road game since Dec. 10. The good news, however, is that last victory in an opposing rink was a 2-0 decision over the Hounds.

Notre Dame, like Melville, has dropped its last three games overall and they now find themselves 10 points back of Estevan. In addition to Saturday’s game against the Millionaires, the Hounds also host the Kindersley Klippers on Friday and with the Klippers making a charge at catching the Bruins, this game becomes even more interesting. Notre Dame has struggled on home ice this year winning just nine times in 22 games so they will need to turn things around in a hurry and this weekend would certainly be a great opportunity to do so.

Weyburn’s Achilles Heel this year is scoring goals and that has never been more evident than this week when they were outscored 10-1 in dropping the first two games of a four-game swing through the northern part of the province. The Red Wings conclude that trip with games in Flin Flon on Friday and Nipawin on Saturday and with Weyburn now nine points back of the final playoff spot, they simply have to start finding the back of the opposition’s net or the clock will hit midnight fairly soon.

Kindersley was also in that group, but a four-game point streak has them within three points of Estevan. A win in Notre Dame would tighten things up even further and with the Klippers having enjoyed better success playing on the road than at the West Central Events centre in Kindersley there is potential for that playoff chase going down to the wire.

Estevan was 6-2-1-0 since the Christmas break prior to embarking on their own swing through the north this week, but losses in Nipawin and Flin Flon put the brakes on their climb in the standings. The Bruins, who finish up their trip with stops in La Ronge on Friday and Melfort on Saturday, not only put some distance between themselves and those behind them with their improved play, but they had brought those ahead of them within striking distance.

The Bruins were at one time as many as 16 points behind the Viterra Division-leading Yorkton Terriers, but that lead has been trimmed to 10 with Estevan still holding a pair of games in hand. The Bruins, who are still only eight points out of a top-four position, have probably the least friendly schedule remaining as nine of their last 13 games are on the road, a place where they have struggled with just eight wins in their first 20 games away from the friendly confines.

The only other games this weekend are a home-and-home set between the league-leading Battlefords North Stars and the Humboldt Broncos while La Ronge makes a trek across the north to visit the Bombers in Flin Flon.

The defending-champion North Stars have a virtual lock on top spot overall with just Flin Flon having a realistic chance of catching them. The Battlefords, who have won their last six games, have a magic number of seven – meaning any combination of North Star wins or Flin Flon losses totalling that number –  is all that it will take to claim the top seed for the playoffs.

Humboldt, meanwhile, has some breathing room to get a playoff spot, but with Estevan and Kindersley both having put up points recently there is little room for error. Yet, the Broncos are only four points out of a top-four spot so their destiny is in their own hands.

SJHL NOTES – One could be forgiven if they assumed there were only 11 teams in the league as Yorkton has been on the sidelines since Jan. 14 and won’t get back on the ice again until Tuesday when they host Flin Flon. The Terriers had a very heavy first-half schedule and then with a game last Saturday against Weyburn being postponed due to inclement weather it will be three full weeks between games for Yorkton. That postponed game has been rescheduled for Feb. 10…Congratulations to Flin Flon rookie Tristan Lemyre who announced this week that he has committed to the University of Denver for next year. The Mirabel, Que., product, who just turned 19 a couple of weeks ago, has overtaken the rookie scoring lead after registering 23 points in the last 12 games. Lemyre has 43 points in just 31 games, which is two better than La Ronge freshman Kyle Ford…With Yorkton having been idle for so long it is somewhat lost on what a sensational season Terrier captain Chantz Petruic is enjoying. When the 20-year-old veteran last played he surpassed the 100-point plateau and had opened up a 30-point lead in the individual scoring race. Despite having been on the sidelines for an extended period of time that cushion is still extensive as Petruic is 28 points clear of his nearest pursuer –  Flin Flon’s Alec Malo.

Weekend Schedule

Weyburn at Flin Flon
Estevan at La Ronge
Kindersley at Notre Dame
Humboldt at Battlefords

Melville at Notre Dame
La Ronge at Flin Flon
Weyburn at Nipawin
Estevan at Melfort
Battlefords at Humboldt