There is becoming a distinct line in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League standings with the top five teams sitting comfortably ahead of the remaining seven squads, but with the playoff format being altered this year allowing just the eight best regular-season records to move on to the post-season, that is where things are getting really interesting.
The Battlefords North Stars, who are now the No.2-ranked team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League thanks to a current 10-game winning streak and 18-1-0-0 record overall, are clearly in the driver’s seat to repeat as league champions. The North Stars are seven points ahead of the Melfort Mustangs for first place overall and 14 points in front of the Humboldt Broncos for top spot in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division.
The Mustangs have a two-point cushion on the Flin Flon Bombers for the Sherwood Division lead following an overtime win between those two rivals on Thursday, but both of those teams are idle this weekend so nothing will change in that race until at least Wednesday when Melfort gets back to work with a home date against the Melville Millionaires.
The Nipawin Hawks and Humboldt both have 22 points to round out the group above that distinct line in the standings and with those two squads going head-to-head on Friday one will pull ahead of the other and gain a little bit of ground on those ahead of them.
Now, for the battle below the line.
If the season were to end right now the Yorkton Terriers, Kindersley Klippers and La Ronge Ice Wolves would all move on, but there is only six points separating the Terriers, who have the best record of that group, from the last-place Millionaires.
Yorkton, which has won its last four to move to the top of the Viterra Division standings, has a tough weekend as they are in Kindersley on Friday before moving on to the Battlefords to take on the North Stars. The Terriers are the only team to have gotten the better of the North Stars this year so that will be something to keep an eye on when they meet on Saturday.
La Ronge can get some breathing room in the playoff battle as they host Melville on Friday before heading to Humboldt to face the Broncos on Saturday. The Ice Wolves, who have shown huge signs of improvement this year, could even surpass Yorkton for sixth place overall depending on the weekend results as they begin the weekend just two points back of the Terriers.
The Weyburn Red Wings, who are just one point back of the Ice Wolves and Klippers, but only one point in front of the Notre Dame Hounds, have just a home game on Saturday against the Hounds so, again, there could be more movement in the standings.
The Estevan Bruins are in a similar situation as they are one point back of Notre Dame and one ahead of Melville with just a home game against the Hounds on Friday this weekend.
Melville, which started the season with five of a possible six points in their first three outings, have just seven points since then and they will be looking to turn things around with their trip through the north this weekend. The Millionaires follow up their stop in La Ronge on Friday with a visit to Nipawin on Saturday.
SJHL NOTES – There is a new leader in the individual scoring race as Yorkton’s Chantz Petruic is riding a 16-game point streak that includes 16 goals and 16 assists in that span. Petruic has 34 points overall, one better than the 33 posted by Flin Flon’s Alec Malo. Petruic’s 17 goals is tied with another Bomber, Donavan Houle-Villeneuve, for the most in the league with Quintin Loon-Stewardson of the Battlefords, Kyle Ford of the Ice Wolves, Cole Rafuse of Flin Flon and Tristan Shewchuk of the Broncos all in a group with 12 each…Speaking of Ford, the 19-year-old leads all rookies in scoring with 22 points. Melville freshman Nic Porterfield has 18 points in 13 games, but he has been out of the line-up for the last two weeks. Humboldt’s 16-year-old sensation, Karter McNarland, is closing the gap with seven points in his last six games to sit with 16 points in 18 games… Another rookie, Nipawin’s Ross Hawryluk, has the best numbers for all goaltenders so far as the 18-year-old from Lloydminster has a 2.17 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in nine appearances. Estevan’s Keenan Rancier is close behind as his 2.21 GAA and .933 save percentage has kept the Bruins in lots of games this year…While Petruic’s 16-game streak is by far the longest recorded this year, Flin Flon forward Easton Haygarth is emerging from the shadows from his high-scoring teammates. The 19-year-old, also from Lloydminster, had an eight-game run of his own snapped in Thursday’s loss to Melfort. During that span he had 15 points to give him 22 on the year. While Easton was held off the scoresheet on Thursday, his twin brother Chase had two points to give him 11 in the last six games and 19 overall…Flin Flon has scored the second most goals this year with their 83 trailing just the North Stars who have 89. What makes that stat interesting is that the Bombers are operating at more than 30 per cent efficiency, both at home and on the road, while enjoying a man advantage and the North Stars are at just 13.9 per cent at home and 16 per cent on the road. Should the North Stars ever get their power play untracked then the distance they have created from the rest of the league could only get bigger.
Melville at La Ronge
Humboldt at Nipawin
Notre Dame at Estevan
Yorkton at Kindersley
Melville at Nipawin
Notre Dame at Weyburn
La Ronge at Humboldt
Yorkton at Battlefords