By Dave Leaderhouse
HAWKS FINALLY RETURN TO ACTION WITH KEY TEST AGAINST LEAGUE-LEADING BRONCOS ON FRIDAY
With nearly two weeks off from Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game action the well-rested Nipawin Hawks will try to pick up where they left off when they host the league-leading Humboldt Broncos in the feature game of Friday’s schedule.
The Hawks, who haven’t played a game since Oct. 2 when they outlasted the Melville Millionaires 3-1 for their fourth straight victory, are still only four points out of the Sherwood Division lead despite being idle and letting the games-in-hand accumulate.
Nipawin was slow out of the gate scoring just five times in their first four games and as a result had just a pair of overtime losses to show for their efforts. The Hawks, however, found that Midas touch so to speak prior to their extended break as they outscored their opponents 18-5 in the next four tilts and not surprisingly won all four to make the other teams in the league take notice. Flin Flon Bombers, who haven’t been able to increase their Sherwood Division lead to more than four points despite now having played four extra games, are especially aware of the Hawks as their current four-game winless streak has kept Nipawin well in sight in the rearview mirror.
A lengthy break can sometimes be detrimental, especially when things are clicking, but the Hawks are hoping it was a rejuvenating process and facing the league’s top team in the first game back will certainly be a good measuring stick.
Humboldt continues to be the early surprise of the season as the Broncos won just 17 games all of last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. Through 11 contests this year the Broncos are 9-1-0-1 and are riding a six-game point streak entering Friday’s match at The Cage.
Another high-profile game on Friday has the Battlefords North Stars in Weyburn to face the Red Wings. The two divisional winners from last year are once again near the top of their respective divisions with the Battlefords entering Friday’s tilt having won four straight before a 4-2 setback on Thursday in Wilcox against the Notre Dame Hounds put the brakes on that streak. The North Stars, who trail the Broncos by three points for the Finning Division lead, will complete their three-game-in-three-nights swing through southern Saskatchewan on Saturday with a date against the Bruins in Estevan.
Weyburn, meanwhile, has put together a three-game winning streak of its own to sit two points back of the Bruins for top spot in the Viterra Division. The Red Wings, who will also host the Flin Flon Bombers on Saturday, have outscored their opponents 16-6 during their current winning streak and as a result have brought their goals-against average down to under three goals per game. Weyburn had the best team goals-against average last year at 2.40 while the Battlefords were a close second at 2.52. Both are now in the upper half of the league in that category this year once again.
Estevan, which was second in league scoring last year (behind just the Battlefords) is once again the bridesmaid in that category as their 49 goals in 11 games trails just the Broncos, who have lit the lamp 53 times. This is somewhat surprising as the Bruins lost eight of their top nine scorers from last season, either through trades or graduation. Estevan, who is being led this year by Kaelen Holt (10-4-14), Zach Goberis (5-9-14), Matt McNeil (6-7-13) and Lyndenn Pastachak (4-9-13) – among others – are now just two points out of first place overall after their 6-4 triumph over Flin Flon on Thursday.
Two other games on Friday have the Melville Millionaires heading to La Ronge to face the Ice Wolves while Notre Dame makes a stop in Yorkton to take on the Terriers.
Melville’s rollercoaster season continues as they started the year with three losses, won their next three, dropped three more before now having points in their last two games to sit one point ahead of Yorkton in the Viterra Division standings. They will be taking on a struggling La Ronge team that has lost its last nine and have been outscored 47-14 in that span. The Ice Wolves were slow out of the gate last year as well, but it was about this time when they got untracked to start a 14-game point streak and propel them into the playoff chase for the first time in four seasons. They will be needing something similar to that this year so maybe it starts on Friday.
Notre Dame’s win on Thursday over the Battlefords extends their point-streak to four games and moves the Hounds to within three points of the North Stars in the Finning Division standings. The Hounds, who are being led in scoring by Ben Duppereault, beat the Terriers 4-1 in their only other meeting and won’t see Yorkton again until the end of January when they will host the Terriers twice in a week to complete the season series. Duppereault, who is on a four-game point streak with four goals and seven assists in that span, has 17 points in total to sit one point back of the league lead, currently being held by Humboldt’s Chris Van Os-Shaw (10-8-18).
The remainder of the weekend schedule has Humboldt travelling from their game against Nipawin on Friday to take on the Kindersley Klippers on Saturday while Melville will also move on from its Friday match with the Ice Wolves to square off against the Melfort Mustangs on Saturday. Sunday’s lone contest has the Flin Flon Bombers completing a grueling four-games-in-five-nights stretch when they meet the Hounds in Wilcox.
Melfort is coming off its first win in nine games when they edged the Klippers on Wednesday. That loss ended Kindersley’s four-game winning streak and both clubs will be looking for victories on Saturday to keep their divisional rivals in sight. Melfort is one point back of Nipawin in the Sherwood Division despite playing four extra games while Kindersley is just three in arrears of Notre Dame in the Finning Division, but they have games in hand on everyone they are chasing.
Melville at La Ronge
Humboldt at Nipawin
Battlefords at Weyburn
Notre Dame at Yorkton
Battlefords at Estevan
Humboldt at Kindersley
Melville at Melfort
Flin Flon at Weyburn
Flin Flon at Notre Dame