By Dave Leaderhouse
SCOTT TOURNAMENT OF HEARTS FORCES MILLIONAIRES TO TAKE PLAYOFF CHASE ON THE ROAD
Hurry! Hurry Hard!
That is a familiar command in curling when the skip signals the sweepers to get on the rock fast so that they can have a favourable result.
The Melville Millionaires might have those words bouncing around in their heads this weekend after they have been forced out of their home rink while the Scott Tournament of Hearts provincial women’s curling championship is being staged at the Horizon Credit Union Centre.
The Millionaires take to the road for three games in three nights with a pair of dates against the Kindersley Klippers sandwiching a stop in the Battlefords for a match against the league-leading North Stars.
All three are important, but those two against the Klippers are critical.
Melville begins play on Friday chasing both the Klippers and the slumping Notre Dame Hounds for the 10th and final playoff berth with the margin they need to close being three and four points, respectively. The Millionaires, who are by far the youngest team in the league, have games in hand on both teams they are chasing, but time is also running out as the schedule enters the final five weeks of the regular season.
Melville has a respectable team average of just over three goals against per game, but scoring on the opposition has been a major source of concern as they are only ahead of the last-place La Ronge Ice Wolves for goals scored.
To put that into even more perspective, the two clubs they will be facing this weekend have scored a combined 106 more goals than the Millionaires with the North Stars accounting for 72 of those. Both Kindersley and the Battlefords have also put together lengthy winning streaks with the Klippers having won their last three and the North Stars having registered at least one point in their last 10.
The Battlefords became the first team to officially lock up a playoff spot when they outscored the Ice Wolves 5-2 on Tuesday and their magic number to clinch the Finning Division title for a second straight year is down to two. Should they beat the Millionaires – or the Nipawin Hawks on Sunday – and the Humboldt Broncos fall in one of their home-and-home matches against the Yorkton Terriers then the North Stars will be guaranteed a top-three seed for the post-season.
The Battlefords enter the weekend with a 10-point cushion on the Flin Flon Bombers for first overall, but Flin Flon, whose lone game is against the last-place Ice Wolves, has also been red-hot of late collecting points in nine straight games.
Flin Flon’s most immediate concern, however, is the Nipawin Hawks as their lead in the Sherwood Division has shrunk to six points following Nipawin’s perfect trip through the south this week. The Hawks allowed just four goals in picking up victories in Weyburn, Estevan and Notre Dame to extend their current winning streak to seven games. With two games still in hand on the Bombers this race could go right down to the final night of the regular schedule when the two clubs will square off at the Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.
Nipawin’s recent run has not only put some heat on the Bombers, but it has also opened some room between them and the Humboldt Broncos for fourth place overall, the final position that would get home-ice advantage in the quarter-final round of the playoffs. Nipawin returns from their successful swing through the south with a 10-point edge on the Broncos with the Hawks’ lone game this weekend being Sunday at home against the North Stars.
The two-time defending Canalta Cup champion Melfort Mustangs are still in the race for that No. 4 seed, but their main focus is staying ahead of both the Weyburn Red Wings and Yorkton for sixth overall as that is the final position to get a bye in the opening best-of-five Wild Card round.
The Mustangs, who are three points back of the Broncos and just one clear of the Red Wings and Terriers, are down south this weekend with stops in Weyburn on Friday and Estevan on Saturday.
NOTES: Players go through stretches in the season when every game they play they seem to be on the scoresheet. Lynnden Pastachak of the Estevan Bruins has the longest consecutive point-streak of the season when he opened the year with points in his first 15 games. While his 21 points during that stretch is impressive, it pales in comparison to the 30 points Greyson Reitmeier of the Flin Flon Bombers accumulated in a 13-game run through November and early December. Colby Downs of the Battlefords North Stars is challenging both of those marks as the veteran forward has collected 25 points in his last 14 games and will look to extend that this weekend with games against Melville and Nipawin… It is remarkable that more than two-thirds of the way through the season a trio of goaltenders have season goals-against averages of under 2.00. Nipawin’s Kristian Stead joined the Battlefords’ duo of Joel Grzybowski and Taryn Kotchorek this week when his fourth shutout of the season – a 5-0 verdict over the Estevan Bruins – lowered his season average to 1.99. Grzybowski at 1.76 and Kotchorek at 1.88 lead the way. With the way the Flin Flon Bombers have been playing of late Zac Robidoux (2.14) could soon join that group.
Yorkton at Humboldt
Melville at Kindersley
Melfort at Weyburn
Melville at Battlefords
Melfort at Estevan
La Ronge at Flin Flon
Humboldt at Yorkton
Battlefords at Nipawin
Melville at Kindersley