By Dave Leaderhouse
PARITY COMES TO THE FORE DURING SUCCESSFUL SHOWCASE EVENT IN WARMAN
The annual Showcase accomplished many things, but the most apparent result of the four-day event was that parity has definitely arrived in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Just two teams left Warman with victories in both of their games and the Melville Millionaires and Weyburn Red Wings did so by the slimmest of margins.
Melville, which entered the Showcase with just one win its first four starts, knocked off the previously unbeaten Humboldt Broncos 3-1 in its opening contest and then put the finishing touches on its central Saskatchewan stop when they doubled the Battlefords North Stars 4-2 in their second match.
Weyburn’s perfect showing was even closer as they first edged the Sherwood Division-leading Flin Flon Bombers 4-3 before riding a 40-save performance from Nathan Hargrave to a 1-0 triumph over the Kindersley Klippers.
The Millionaires and Red Wings will now both be put to the test this weekend when Melville plays three games in three nights in the northern reaches of the province while Weyburn has a tough divisional test against their rivals from Estevan before heading to Humboldt to take on the league-leading Broncos.
Melville, who underwent a coaching change at the end of last season after having Jamie Feisel behind the bench for more than a decade, will be in Flin Flon on Friday and Saturday to face the Sherwood Division-leading Bombers. The Millionaires, with new coach and GM Devin Windle at the helm, will then make a stop in Nipawin for the lone game on Sunday where Windle will face his old team for the first time. Windle was an assistant coach with the Hawks for the past two seasons before moving into his new role in Melville.
The Millionaires will need a strong weekend to keep pace with the Red Wings and Estevan Bruins, who are both three points clear of Melville in the Viterra Division standings. Having sole possession of first place in the division on the line will only make Friday’s contest between the southeastern rivals that more intense and with all four teams in the division – Yorkton Terriers are tied with Melville just three points back of the frontrunners – every game is important.
Nipawin also has a three-games-in-three-nights schedule as they face the La Ronge Ice Wolves in a home-and-home series before taking on Melville on Sunday. The Hawks, who are coming off their first win of the season – a 4-0 decision over the Notre Dame Hounds to end the Showcase – have struggled to find the back of the net this year as they have just nine goals in six games including the outburst over the Hounds on Wednesday.
Still, a strong weekend against La Ronge and Melville will pull the Hawks back into the thick of things in the Sherwood Division as they are just five points back of the Bombers and two points in arrears of the Melfort Mustangs.
The two-time defending champion Mustangs have slipped a bit of late losing their last three games by a combined score of 15-4 including 4-0 and 5-2 setbacks to the Battlefords and Estevan at the Showcase. Melfort will look to turn things around this weekend when they square off against Humboldt on Friday and the Battlefords on Saturday, both on home ice at the Northern Lights Palace.
One other game on the schedule has the Notre Dame Hounds travelling to Yorkton on Saturday to face the Terriers in another game that is important for both clubs to keep those in front of them in their sites.
The Kindersley Klippers are the only team idle this weekend and the break will undoubtedly be welcomed by their penalty-killing units who are a perfect 27-for-27 in man-disadvantage situations. The Klippers’ 100 per cent efficiency rating is well ahead of second-place Weyburn, who are at 89.3 per cent after allowing three power play goals in 28 penalty-killing situations. The Battlefords are the least efficient in this category having allowed nine power play goals in 34 opportunities while the Nipawin Hawks have registered three shorthanded goals to account for almost half of the league total in that area.
While the North Stars have allowed the most power-play goals against they have also scored the most with eight in 45 man-advantage situations. Their 17.8 efficiency rating in that department is well back of the Millionaires, however, who lead the way with six power-play goals on 25 opportunities for a 24 percent rating.
Individually, Kaelen Holt of the Bruins and Notre Dame’s Ben Duperreault lead the way with 10 points each as both sophomore forwards are on pace to shatter their point totals from last season. Holt, in fact, has already scored as many goals –seven -in six games this year as he did in 50 contests last season.
Holt, however, doesn’t hold the lead in goals scored as that honour belongs to Flin Flon’s Dondre Watson. The 20-year-old from Calgary has eight tallies in his first six SJHL games including a hat-trick in his last outing when the Bombers outlasted Yorkton 6-5 at the Showcase. Watson is also on the league’s longest point-scoring streak of the season as he has eight points – all goals – in his last four games.
It is only two weeks into the season, but one can already tell it is going to be a lot tighter this year than in past seasons. All three divisions are tightly packed and just one point separates four teams for first place overall. This weekend could make things even tighter.
Melville at Flin Flon
Humboldt at Melfort
La Ronge at Nipawin
Estevan at Weyburn
Melville at Flin Flon
Nipawin at La Ronge
Weyburn at Humboldt
Battlefords at Melfort
Notre Dame at Yorkton
Melville at Nipawin