By Dave Leaderhouse
TOP HOME TEAM VS. TOP ROAD TEAM SQUARE OFF TO HIGHLIGHT INTERESTING WEEKEND SCHEDULE
Two of the hottest teams and who are both divisional leaders, the Estevan Bruins and Flin Flon Bombers, will go head-to-head on Friday to highlight a relatively quiet beginning to a weekend of Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League action.
The Bruins, who won their third straight with a shootout win in Melfort on Thursday to kick off a three-games-in-three-nights swing through the frigid north, are now 13 points clear of the Weyburn Red Wings for top spot in the Viterra Division standings.
Estevan has by far scored the most goals this year (141), but they have also allowed the third most against (112) so they will have to tighten things up a bit going into the Whitney Forum where the Bombers are 12-1-2-2 and have also been the most explosive team on home ice having scored 69 times in front of their faithful fans. That near-perfect record on home ice posted by the Bombers sets up an interesting scenario for Friday as the Bruins enter the weekend with the best road record at 13-2-0-1.
Flin Flon, which is also on a three-game winning streak, is now nine points in front of the Nipawin Hawks for the Sherwood Division lead, but they will have to play their next five games leading up to the Christmas break without head coach Mike Reagan, defenceman Cory Thomas and forward Brandon Lesko who will all be in Bonneyville, Alta., representing Team West at the World Junior “A” Challenge this week.
Reagan returns to Team West for a chance to defend the gold medal the squad won last year while Lesko and Thomas were named to the 22-player roster on Thursday. The only other SJHL player to crack the line-up is Yorkton Terrier defenceman Regan Seiferling as eight others, including Estevan’s Kaelan Holt, were given the bad news that they failed to earn a spot on the roster. Holt should be back with the Bruins on Friday in Flin Flon.
Two other games on Friday have the league-leading Battlefords North Stars hosting the Yorkton Terriers and the La Ronge Ice Wolves entertaining Weyburn, who are winless in their first two starts on their northern swing following 5-2 and 5-3 setbacks in Nipawin and Flin Flon, respectively, earlier this week.
The Battlefords, who have lost just once in their last 18 games, are comfortably in front in the Finning Division standings as they have a 13-point lead on the Humboldt Broncos, but their advantage for first place overall has dwindled to just three points over Estevan following the Bruins’ win on Thursday.
The North Stars, who begin a four-game homestand with the match against Yorkton on Friday, will also have Layne Young, Cody Spagrud and Levi Kleiboer back in the fold as that trio was also unsuccessful in garnering a spot on the Team West roster. For Young it was the second straight year he failed to move past the selection camp, a similar fate experienced by Melfort’s Dakota Boutin and Weyburn’s Mike Eskra, although the Red Wing rearguard was injured last year and was unable to attend the camp.
Saturday’s schedule is a bit busier with four games on the slate. Estevan and Weyburn conclude their northern tours with stops in Nipawin and Melfort, respectively, while the Battlefords remain at home to face the suddenly hot Kindersley Klippers (three straight wins) and the Melville Millionaires venture into Humboldt to square off against the Broncos.
Sunday’s lone game has the Terriers returning home from a three-game trip to host Humboldt.
There are just 10 days left on the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule with teams using that time to adjust to any recent player moves made leading up to the first trade deadline on Dec. 1. They will also gauge their squads to see if further moves will be required prior to the final deadline in early January. After that the race is on to the finish line and what promises to be a heated race for playoff positioning and an even more exciting post-season.
NOTES: Notre Dame’s Ben Duperreault has widened his lead in the individual point’s race to seven over Humboldt’s Chris Van Os-Shaw. Duperreault has the most assists (27) and points (49) while Van Os-Shaw is the top sniper with 24 goals. Flin Flon’s Greyson Reitmeier, who has points in his last 12 games (11-14-25) has moved into third place with 39 points overall. Reitmeier lept past Notre Dame’s rookie sensation Adam Dawe as the 17-year-old from Gander, Newfoundland/Labrador was also away trying to secure a spot with Team West. Dawe is now one point back of Reitmeier, but he should be back in the Hounds’ line-up when they return to action on Wednesday when they host Estevan…The league’s two stingiest defences –Battlefords and Nipawin – also have the best goaltending stats as Joel Grzybowski and Taryn Kotchorek of the North Stars have the best goals-against averages at 1.79 and 2.05, respectively, while Kristian Stead of the Hawks has the best save percentage at .934. All three have two shutouts each, which is one back of that posted by Flin Flon’s Zac Robidoux and Kindersley’s Justen Close…Special teams usually play a big role in a team’s success and for the Battlefords that is exactly the case as they have the top power-play at 23.1 per cent efficiency along with the third-best penalty killing rate of 84.4. Surprisingly, Estevan is fifth on the power play at 20.5 and eighth in penalty killing at 80.5. Notre Dame leads the way in killing off penalties at 87.1 while the Nipawin Hawks, who are second on the power play at 21.2, have scored the most shorthanded goals with seven.
Weyburn at La Ronge
Yorkton at Battlefords
Estevan at Flin Flon
Kindersley at Battlefords
Melville at Humboldt
Estevan at Nipawin
Weyburn at Melfort
Humboldt at Yorkton