What seemed next to impossible just a couple short weeks ago could quite possibly become a reality by the end of the weekend when the Flin Flon Bombers take on the Battlefords North Stars in a doubleheader this weekend at the North Battleford Civic Centre.
The defending champion North Stars once held a double-digit advantage over the rest of the league for first place overall, but should the red-hot Bombers sweep the weekend series they will pull to within two points of the frontrunners while still holding a game in hand.
Winners of 24 of their first 26 games the North Stars appeared to be unstoppable, but a 2-3-2-0 mark in their last seven games, including going winless in their last four, has brought them back to the field. On the flip side, the Bombers have collected points in their last seven games and are 8-1-1-0 in their last 10 to not only chase down the North Stars, but to also open up a five-point advantage over the Melfort Mustangs for top spot in the Sherwood Division.
The two highest scoring teams in the league have met twice before this season with the North Stars prevailing both times. The Battlefords went into the always-tough Whitney Forum in late September and emerged with a 10-3 triumph and two weeks later on home ice they held on for a narrow 4-3 overtime decision.
Having not seen each other in more than two months there might be a feeling out process, but with each club capable of putting up big numbers that isn’t likely to last long. It’s still early in the season, but this series definitely has a playoff feel to it and with so much on the line the games should be wildly entertaining.
While the Bombers can close the gap on the North Stars, the Mustangs will also be looking to move closer to the leaders when they make a swing through the southeast portion of the province with stops in Weyburn on Friday and Estevan on Saturday.
Led by head coach and general manager Trevor Blevins, who became the franchise’s winningest coach this week when the Mustangs edged the La Ronge Ice Wolves in overtime on Tuesday, Melfort has put together a 7-3-0-0 mark in their last 10 outings to keep those in front of them in sight. Blevins now has 212 regular-season victories eclipsing the previous best mark of 211 recorded by Darrell Mann from 2004-11.
Should the Mustangs have a successful swing, and the Bombers falter, they could climb to within a single point of Flin Flon for the divisional lead, but it won’t be easy as both the Red Wings and Bruins are fighting for their playoff lives so they will also be looking to gain some ground on those ahead of them in the standings.
Estevan, which was named the host city for the 2022 Centennial Cup presented by Tim Horton’s on Thursday, and Weyburn will also both be hosting the Kindersley Klippers this weekend and with both of those clubs seven points out of the final playoff spot they will need to start putting together some wins and doing it in front of their hometown faithful would be a great way to do just that.
While Flin Flon and Melfort have moved to the top of the Sherwood Division standings one can’t forget the other two teams in that competitive division with La Ronge and the Nipawin Hawks engaging in a home-and-home series this weekend.
The Ice Wolves have had a breakout start to the season already winning more games this year than in any of the last four years while the Hawks, who have claimed the regular-season pennant in each of the last two seasons, have struggled somewhat, but are still a threat each and every night. Both are comfortably in a playoff position, but they need to get on a roll if they have any thoughts of getting into the top four to enjoy home-ice advantage when the playoffs begin in three months.
Two other games this weekend have the Viterra Division-leading Yorkton Terriers hosting the Notre Dame Hounds while the Humboldt Broncos welcome the Melville Millionaires with both of those tilts taking place on Saturday.
Yorkton has opened up a 13-point advantage over Melville for the divisional lead, but they too have to keep stringing together wins if they wish to remain in a top-four position. Notre Dame, with their win over Kindersley on Thursday, are now just two points out of a playoff berth while Melville is another two points back of the Hounds. Humboldt has some breathing room still, but a four-game winless streak has allowed those behind them to make up some ground so the Broncos will be looking to get back in the win column while their head coach and general manager, Scott Barney, remains in Dawson Creek, B.C., as part of the Team West entry at the World Junior “A” Challenge.
SJHL NOTES – Still with the World Junior “A” Challenge, Team West was officially eliminated from medal contention on Thursday when they fell 4-3 to the Czech Republic in their final round-robin game. Team West had just a shootout win over Russia in their four games leaving them in last place in the five-team event…Yorkton forward Chantz Petruic is dominating the individual scoring race like no one else in recent memory as the Terrier captain is averaging two points per game and is well on his way to breaking down the barrier of 50 goals in 50 games. Petruic enters this weekend with 37 goals in 35 games…Two goaltenders who missed a significant portion of the early part of the regular season for different reasons have now put up the best numbers for puck stoppers. Melville’s Berk Berkeliev, who was sidelined for two months after an ugly incident on opening weekend that resulted in him getting a concussion, leads all goaltenders with a 1.87 goals-against average. Ryan Ouellette, the Yorkton sophomore who began the season playing south of the border, is 12-2-1-1 since returning to the SJHL and his 1.99 GAA is the only other result below the 2.00 mark. Both Berkeliev and Ouellette have dazzling .947 save percentages…Nipawin’s Zach Cox is the hottest goal scorer of late having netted six goals in his last five games. La Ronge’s Daylon Mannon is also on a roll having deposited five goals in his last four outings. The longest such streak this year is six games shared by Kyle Ford of the Ice Wolves and Austin Becker of the Battlefords when both had seven tallies during that stretch earlier in the campaign…Melfort can be both dynamic and porous when it comes to specialty teams as they lead the league with short-handed goals with six, but share the lead when it comes to shorthanded goals against with five…A third of Kindersley’s games have gone into extra time with the Klippers going 2-5-3-1 when that happens. With just a slim two-point edge on Notre Dame for the final playoff berth, they could be in much better shape had the puck bounced their way in a few more of those close decisions.
Nipawin at La Ronge
Melfort at Weyburn
Kindersley at Estevan
Flin Flon at Battlefords
La Ronge at Nipawin
Notre Dame at Yorkton
Kindersley at Weyburn
Melfort at Estevan
Melville at Humboldt
Flin Flon at Battlefords