If the defending league-champion Battlefords North Stars are going to be slowed down this might just be the weekend as they face the Nipawin Hawks in a home-and-home set to highlight a busy schedule that includes a full slate of games on Saturday and all but two teams in action on Friday.
The North Stars, who have opened up an 11-point lead atop the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division and a seven-point advantage for first place overall, have suffered just one loss in their first 14 games. They began defence of their Canalta Cup title with seven straight victories and after a surprising loss in Yorkton, have reeled off six more wins to distance themselves from everyone in the league.
The Battlefords, who have climbed to the No. 4 spot in the Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings, have by far the most explosive offence having averaged just under five goals per game and while their team defence is also very solid they face the league’s best in that category as Nipawin has allowed just two goals per game. The Hawks, who were also red-hot out of the gates with six straight wins, have followed up a brief skid with three more wins to move to within one point of the Sherwood Division-leading Melfort Mustangs, but remain eight back of the North Stars.
Goaltending should be front and centre in this match-up as the Hawks’ tandem of Ross Hawryluk and Ethan Slobodzian both have sub-2.00 goals-against averages and share the league lead in shutouts with two each while the Battlefords’ Adam Dmyterko is a perfect 9-0-0-0 and has lowered his GAA to 2.19 with just eight goals against in his last four outings.
Should the North Stars sweep this weekend they might just have put everyone in the rearview mirror for good, but a strong showing by the Hawks will certainly keep them in sight.
While the spotlight will be on those two heavyweights, every other game this weekend has some sort of significance on the standings.
Melfort, for example, will swing through the southeast with stops in Estevan and Weyburn looking to maintain their lead atop the Sherwood Division with both the Bruins and Red Wings trying to break out of a three-way deadlock for second place in the Viterra Division race. Estevan and Weyburn, who both also host the Kindersley Klippers this weekend, are tied with the Yorkton Terriers with all three just two points back of the Melville Millionaires for the division lead.
Melville is in Flin Flon for a doubleheader against the Bombers and while the Millionaires will be looking to maintain their advantage in their divisional race, the Bombers need a strong weekend to keep pace with Nipawin and Melfort as they are just three points out of first place in the Sherwood Division.
The Bombers are also looking over their shoulders as the vastly improved La Ronge Ice Wolves are making a move in the standings thanks to a 6-3-1-0 mark in their last 10 games. The Ice Wolves, who are now just three points back of the Bombers, play a unique doubleheader with the Terriers this weekend as they are in Yorkton on Friday before playing a “home game” in Churchbridge on Saturday. La Ronge head coach Kevin Kaminski hails from that centre so a large crowd will certainly be out cheering for their hometown hero.
One other game this weekend has the Humboldt Broncos travelling to Wilcox on Saturday to face the struggling Notre Dame Hounds. Humboldt, which is 7-3-0-0 in its last 10 games, are comfortably in second place in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division, but they need to play even better to keep the Battlefords in view. The Hounds, meanwhile, have slipped into a tie with Kindersley for last place overall after going winless in their last four outings, including a 4-2 setback to the Klippers on home ice on Thursday.
SJHL NOTES – A big reason for the Ice Wolves’ impressive turnaround is the output being produced by 20-year-old Daylon Mannon. The Fresno, Cal., product has surged to the top of the individual scoring race with six goals and nine assists in his last eight games. Mannon now has a three-point lead on Alec Malo of the Bombers while Donavan Houle-Villeneuve, also from Flin Flon, is another point back along with Chantz Petruic of the Terriers…Petruic, who is second in the league in goals scored with 14 – one less than Houle-Villeneuve’s 15 – has an 11-game point streak heading into this weekend’s action. That equals the longest consecutive-game stretch of the season turned in by Malo, but the Flin Flon forward’s run, which ended last weekend, totalled three more points than the 20 Petruic has recorded during his impressive streak…Another interesting tidbit for the Battlefords-Nipawin match-up this weekend is both of those clubs are the only two teams with perfect home records this year. On the flipside, the only team not to register at least one point on the road is Yorkton…While La Ronge has crept into the upper half of the league for goals scored it isn’t because of any success on the power play. The Ice Wolves have managed just eight goals on 66 opportunities with the man advantage which translates into a 12.1 per cent success rate – the lowest in the league. Flin Flon, on the other hand, has scored 20 times on 68 opportunities for a 29.4 per cent success rate – by far the best in the league. La Ronge also trails everyone in penalty killing (75 percent) with Melfort leading the way in that category at 89.2 per cent.
Melville at Flin Flon
La Ronge at Yorkton
Kindersley at Weyburn
Melfort at Estevan
Nipawin at Battlefords
Melville at Flin Flon
Yorkton at La Ronge (at Churchbridge)
Battlefords at Nipawin
Melfort at Weyburn
Kindersley at Estevan
Humboldt at Notre Dame