By Dave Leaderhouse
NORTH STARS AND BOMBERS RENEW ACQUAINTANCES IN NORTHERN MANITOBA WEEKEND DOUBLEHEADER
The Battlefords North Stars will have their hands full this weekend if they want to keep the surprising Humboldt Broncos in their sights for top spot in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Finning Division.
The North Stars, who trail the Broncos by four points for both the division and overall lead in the standings, head to Flin Flon for a pair of games with the Bombers picking up right where they left off last season when they reached the Canalta Cup final.
The twinbill, which is the first time the two have met since Flin Flon eliminated the Battlefords in five games in last spring’s semi-final round, pits one of the hottest teams on home ice – Flin Flon – against the league’s best road team – the Battlefords.
The Bombers have yet to lose in regulation time at the Whitney Forum having posted a 4-0-1-0 record so far this year while the North Stars are 4-1-0-0 away from the friendly confines of the North Battleford Civic Centre.
As a result of the near-perfect record on home ice the Bombers have jumped into the Sherwood Division lead and are one point better than the Battlefords in the overall standings and three points back of the high-flying Broncos with a game in hand on both clubs. Flin Flon is three points up on the Nipawin Hawks for top spot in the Sherwood Division with the Hawks being the only team not playing this weekend.
Humboldt, which does possess the best home record at 6-0-0, has just one game this weekend when they take on the Kindersley Klippers on Friday at the Elgar Peterson Arena. The Broncos, who failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time in more than a decade, are 8-1-0-0 and by far the most explosive team offensively having scored 45 times in their first nine games.
Not surprisingly, the league’s top three scorers are all wearing Bronco jerseys as Chris Van Os-Shaw has jumped into the overall lead with 16 points after picking up nine points, including six goals, in his last two outings. Daniel McKitrick and Trevor Posch each have 14 points to sit tied for second with Ben Duperreault of the Notre Dame Hounds.
The Broncos did not win their eighth game until Dec. 4 last year so their turnaround under second-year coach Darcy Haugen has been impressive to say the least. The news only got better for Humboldt this week when it was announced that the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats were reassigning last season’s Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League scoring champion, Erik Gardiner, to his hometown Broncos.
The other team that has to be considered an early surprise this season is the Estevan Bruins. Having lost a big chunk of their players from last year’s club that hosted the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup it was assumed the Bruins would be in a rebuilding mode this season, but Estevan has surged to the top of the Viterra Division standings thanks to a 5-2-0-1 record.
The Bruins, led by Kaelan Holt and Matt McNeill – both with 13 points each – are tied with their rivals from Weyburn for the division lead, but they have a better winning percentage having played one fewer game than the Red Wings.
Both the Bruins and Red Wings will entertain the struggling La Ronge Ice Wolves this weekend with Weyburn also playing host to the Notre Dame Hounds on Friday.
Another interesting match-up this weekend is the renewal of the Highway 10 rivalry between the Yorkton Terriers and Melville Millionaires. Both clubs have new bench bosses this year as Casey O’Brien replaced Trent Cassan in Yorkton just prior to the start of the regular campaign while Devin Windle assumed control of the Millionaires this summer when Melville opted not to bring back long-time coach Jamie Feisel last spring after the Millionaires missed out on getting into the playoffs.
The Terriers and Millionaires each have six points this year with Yorkton having played two fewer games than their arch-rivals. Melville has had a bit of a rollercoaster season to date losing their first three games before reeling off three straight wins. They will be looking to snap their current three-game skid when they host the Terriers in the opening game of the home-and-home set on Friday.
One final game on the weekend slate has the struggling two-time defending Canalta Cup champion Melfort Mustangs hosting Kindersley on Saturday. The Mustangs are winless in their last seven games after opening the season with three straight wins and they have just one victory in four games played at the Northern Lights Palace, a place where they have been dominant in their runs to back-to-back championships.
The game between the Mustangs and Klippers will undoubtedly be a battle of special teams as Melfort has scored both the most short-handed goals – four – and allowed the most shorthanded goals – also four – while Kindersley has surrendered just one power-play goal against in 35 man-disadvantage situations entering this weekend’s action.
As the season moves on more separation in the standings occurs, but all it takes is a team to put together a hot streak to turn everything upside down. It happened last year when the La Ronge Ice Wolves started the campaign at 3-10-1 and then went on a 14-game unbeaten streak. With the Ice Wolves slow out of the gate again this year at 1-9-0-0 they will need the same thing to happen if they hope to chase down those in front of them making their games in Estevan and Weyburn this weekend even more important.
Battlefords at Flin Flon
La Ronge at Estevan
Kindersley at Humboldt
Yorkton at Melville
Notre Dame at Weyburn
Battlefords at Flin Flon
Kindersley at Melfort
La Ronge at Weyburn
Melvile at Yorkton