By Dave Leaderhouse
NOTRE DAME QUIETLY PUTTING TOGETHER A SOLID TURNAROUND SEASON
A lot of attention has been given to the Battlefords North Stars and Estevan Bruins, and rightfully so as both have had explosive starts to the 2016-17 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, but one team that has been quietly going about showing huge signs of improvement is the Notre Dame Hounds.
Two years removed from a trip to the league final, the Hounds took a small step backwards last year when they finished the regular-season campaign with a 22-29-4-3 ledger. After winning the opening game in their best-of-five Wild Card series against the Kindersley Klippers, the Hounds dropped the next three including a 5-0 setback in the finale on home ice.
The Hounds were determined to have a bounce-back year this season and so far, as mentioned, they have quietly done just that.
Entering this weekend Notre Dame is third in the Finning Division standings with a 13-8-3-1 record and they have points in their last four games having won twice and losing the other two in overtime. This time last year, the Hounds were 12-11-2-0 and fighting for a playoff spot, but it looks like this time around they will be in the thick of things right to the end.
Offensively, the Hounds are led by league scoring leader Ben Duperreault (17-24-41) and the addition of 17-year-old Adam Dawe has given Notre Dame one of the best one-two punches in the league. Dawe, who hails from Gander, Newfoundland/Labrador, is tied for third in scoring with 13 goals and 21 assists and enters this weekend on the second longest point streak of the season at 10 games (6-11-17). Just Estevan’s Lyndenn Pastachak, who had points in the first 15 games, has a longer streak this year.
Jordan Greenfield-Flemon and Riley Higdon have provided solid goaltending for the Hounds and special teams are at or near the top with Notre Dame having the best penalty-killing efficiency at 87.1 per cent and the power play units are just percentage points behind the Battlefords (24.0 to 23.4).
If there is an Achilles heel it is the success, or lack thereof, the team has experienced on the road as they are just one game over .500 (6-5-1-1) away from their home rink while at the Duncan McNeill Arena the Hounds are an impressive 7-3-2-0.
With that said, the Hounds have won their last two road games and will look to extend that streak this weekend when they face the league-leading North Stars on Friday and then move over to Kindersley for a date with the Klippers on Saturday.
If the cards fall right they could leap past the Humboldt Broncos into second place in the Finning Division as they begin weekend play just one point back of that position. The Broncos, who began the season with eight wins in their first nine games, have lost four in a row and they, too, are on the road for a pair when they take on the red-hot Bombers in Flin Flon on Friday before staying in the north for a Saturday match against the La Ronge Ice Wolves.
Flin Flon, which has won five straight including back-to-back shutouts, is now six points clear of the Nipawin Hawks for the Sherwood Division lead. The game against Humboldt is their lone contest this weekend, but they will also be keeping an eye on what the Hawks are doing as Nipawin takes on the Melfort Mustangs in a home-and-home series beginning on Friday at the Cage and then heading back to the Northern Lights Palace on Saturday.
Two other match-ups this weekend are also home-and-home affairs with Estevan and Weyburn renewing acquaintances while the Highway 10 rivalry between the Yorkton Terriers and Melville Millionaires will heat up.
All three of those home-and-home tilts will have a bearing on the standings as Melfort is now just four points back of Nipawin for second place in the Sherwood Division; Weyburn has fallen 11 points behind Estevan for the Viterra Division lead and if they hope to keep them in their sights they will need positive results this weekend; Melville and Yorkton, both of who have been playing much better of late, are deadlocked with 23 points in the standings so something could break this weekend or if they split, then the battle goes on.
As is usually the custom there are no games on Grey Cup Sunday so all of the action is compressed in just over a 24-hour period.
This weekend is the unofficial half-way point of the season as some teams will reach the 29-game mark while others like Nipawin, Notre Dame, Melfort, Yorkton and Melville have some games in hand.
A lot could change by the time the weekend is over, but the way the season has been going things could remain the same with any team winning on any given night. It truly has been a great first half of hockey.
NOTES: Dawe isn’t the only player to have a lengthy point streak intact entering the weekend. Kristian St. Onge of the Bombers picked up a pair of assists in Flin Flon’s 6-0 win over Kindersley on Thursday to stretch his points streak to nine games (6-9-15). Dakota Boutin of the Mustangs (9-7-16) and Tyler Podgorenko of the Hounds (3-9-12) have also been on fire of late having registered at least one point in eight straight games…The longest current goal-scoring streak is four games with Jacob Wozney of the Red Wings having notched five markers in that span and Jared Blaquiere has seven assists in his last five games to have the longest active playmaking streak at the moment…The Battlefords Joel Grzybowski and Taryn Kotchorek continue to be in the top three in netminding stats with the former having a 1.84 GAA and the latter coming in just behind Nipawin’s Kristian Stead at 2.05 and 2.01, respectively. Flin Flon’s Zac Robidoux claimed a share of the league lead in shutouts with Kindersley’s Justen Close when he collected his third of the season following Thursday’s win over the Klippers.
Notre Dame at Battlefords
Humboldt at Flin Flon
Melfort at Nipawin
Estevan at Weyburn
Melville at Yorkton
Humboldt at La Ronge
Weyburn at Estevan
Notre Dame at Kindersley
Nipawin at Melfort
Yorkton at Melville