By Dave Leaderhouse
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is closing in on its 50th birthday, but prior to the current version being put in place in the late 1960s there was a precursor of sorts when the Saskatchewan Amateur Junior Hockey League entertained fans for a lengthy stretch.
Why the history lesson? Well, back when World War II broke out a number of the young men playing in the league at the time put their playing careers on hold to serve their country so the SJHL is always proud to honour Remembrance Day and this weekend will be no exception.
There will be tributes of some kind at every home game to remember those who so bravely served our country and with a heavy schedule on the table it promises to be an exciting weekend for everyone associated with the SJHL.
News away from the rink in the two days leading up to the Remembrance Day weekend certainly adds to the excitement with both the La Ronge Ice Wolves and Yorkton Terriers grabbing the headlines.
On Wednesday it was announced that former Ice Wolves associate coach Mat Hehr has been hired as a full-time assistant with Yorkton while La Ronge followed that up one day later by revealing that former player Evan Vossen will be the new head coach and general manager of the franchise.
These moves came as a result of Shawn Martin being released by the Ice Wolves three weeks ago, a situation that also saw Hehr resign from the team after two years with the club.
Vossen, who played with the Ice Wolves from 2003-07, will join the team next week and in the interim Eric Bell will continue running the squad, including this weekend when La Ronge visits the Melfort Mustangs on Friday before returning home for a 4 p.m. (new time) game on Sunday against the Notre Dame Hounds.
The Ice Wolves, who were 2-12-1-0 under Martin, have been playing better of late going 1-3-2 with Bell behind the bench and despite the woeful start they find themselves just six points out of a playoff position. They could certainly close that gap with a strong weekend before the new boss arrives in town.
Friday’s schedule has three more interesting games on tap with the Humboldt Broncos heading to Weyburn to face the Red Wings, the Kindersley Klippers travel to the Battlefords to take on the red-hot North Stars and the Hounds open a three-games-in-three-nights stretch through the north when they invade The Cage in Nipawin to square off against the Hawks.
Humboldt has cooled down somewhat after an explosive start as the Broncos are just 5-5-0-0 in their last 10 games. They had opened the year with a 9-1-0-1 ledger, but with the North Stars having won their last nine straight the Broncos now find themselves five points back of the Battlefords in the Finning Division standings, although they do have a game in hand.
Weyburn has also struggled of late winning just four of its last 10 games and they, too, are looking at the taillights of the Estevan Bruins, who now have a six-point advantage in the Viterra Division race. The Red Wings were newsmakers of their own leading up to the weekend when it was announced that they had moved 20-year-old netminder Nathan Hargrave and a sixth- round draft pick to Yorkton in exchange for a third-round selection and future considerations. Hargrave had been acquired from the Kindersley Klippers just prior to the start of the season and was 10-6-1 in his brief time with the Red Wings.
The Battlefords will be looking to extend their current run to 10 when they host Kindersley, but the Klippers have won their last two road games so the North Stars certainly can’t take them for granted. The same two clubs will also meet again on Saturday in Kindersley.
Friday’s final game has two clubs that are off to great starts, but have been overshadowed somewhat by the early successes of other squads, most notably the Battlefords, Humboldt and Estevan.
Nipawin, despite playing a league-low 16 games, has quietly moved to the top of the Sherwood Division standings while Notre Dame boasts both the top scorer in Ben Duperreault (13-18-31) and top rookie in Adam Dawe (9-18-27). They also have Jordan Greenfield-Flemon between the pipes as the 20-year-old rookie from Onoway, Alta., has a sparkling 2.03 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in his nine appearances.
The Hawks, however, are by far the stingiest team in the league having surrendered just 26 goals in 16 games and 20-year-old Kristian Stead is a big reason for that as he has allowed just 19 goals on 391 shots for a .951 save percentage.
Nipawin, which enters the weekend on a five-game winning streak and victories in nine of their last 10 matches, is also leading the league on the power play (25.3%) and penalty killing (88.2%). Amazingly, all of this has been accomplished despite not having a single player in the top 20 in individual scoring.
The Hawks will also see action on Saturday when they travel to Yorkton and they will likely be the first opponents of Hargrave in his new surroundings. Yorkton is right now tied with Melfort for what would be the final playoff spot and with La Ronge expected to ramp things up a bit with new leadership behind the bench and it almost sounds funny to say, but every game has that much more importance considering it is still relatively early in the season.
Other games on Saturday have Notre Dame moving over to Flin Flon to face the Bombers, Humboldt continues it southern swing with a stop in Estevan and Weyburn heads up to Melville to take on the Millionaires. As mentioned earlier the Battlefords also travel to Kindersley for a rematch with the Klippers.
Sunday’s schedule, as is usually the case, is somewhat lighter with just Estevan facing the Terriers in Yorkton and La Ronge hosting Notre Dame.
Lest we Forget! Remember to take a minute to thank those who have given so bravely for our country and our freedom. It is because of them we can enjoy so much.
Humboldt at Weyburn
Kindersley at Battlefords
La Ronge at Melfort
Notre Dame at Nipawin
Humboldt at Estevan
Notre Dame at Flin Flon
Battlefords at Kindersley
Weyburn at Melville
Nipawin at Yorkton
Estevan at Yorkton
Notre Dame at La Ronge (4 p.m.)