By Dave Leaderhouse
NEW ERA BEGINS IN LA RONGE WITH VOSSEN TAKING OVER THE REINS OF ICE WOLVES
A new era begins this weekend in La Ronge when Evan Vossen takes his spot behind the Ice Wolves’ bench for the first time.
Vossen, a former player with the Ice Wolves, was named the club’s new head coach and general manger last week, but just got into town on the weekend when La Ronge picked up its fourth win of the season – a 4-3 overtime decision over the Notre Dame Hounds last Sunday.
The Ice Wolves were looking for a permanent head coach and general manger to replace Shawn Martin, who was relieved of his duties on Oct. 23 after the club got off to a 2-11-1 start. Eric Bell has been the interim coach since then and the Ice Wolves responded positively by going 2-4-0-2, but now it is Vossen’s team with Bell expected to remain on as an assistant coach.
If there was ever such a thing as good time to make the transition then this would be it as the Ice Wolves are just at the beginning of a five-game homestand including a doubleheader against the Yorkton Terriers on Friday and Saturday at the Mel Hegland Arena.
Yorkton is one of three teams – the Melfort Mustangs and Kindersley Klippers being the others – that are just ahead of the Ice Wolves in the standings and if La Ronge can put any kind of streak together during this homestand they could quickly find themselves in a tighter battle for one of the final playoff spots as those three clubs presently sit eight points clear of the Ice Wolves.
Yorkton, however, looks to have turned a corner of their own as they have won their last three games, two of them since acquiring 20-year-old netminder Nathan Hargrave from the Weyburn Red Wings just over a week ago.
Chasing down those three teams would naturally be just the first step for the Ice Wolves and from reading Vossen’s comments in several media sources this week it is clear he is confident the group that is in La Ronge can achieve much more.
Vossen referenced former head coach Bob Beatty a number of times in those articles and having played for the legendary Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League mentor he says he wants to bring back to La Ronge what Beatty was so successful in doing and that is instilling passion and pride.
While Vossen begins the task of rebuilding the Ice Wolves there are a number of other games on the slate this weekend, all of which have some interesting aspects to them.
The one that immediately jumps off the schedule to grab one’s attention is the game in Nipawin on Friday where the Hawks will entertain the Flin Flon Bombers. First place in the Sherwood Division is on the line in that contest with Nipawin entering the weekend with a two-point lead over their northern rivals.
Flin Flon started the year on fire going 6-1-1-0 in their first eight games, but they have cooled off somewhat with points in just six of their last 10 allowing Nipawin to climb ahead of them in the standings.
Nipawin, conversely, was 0-2-2 to start the season, but victories in 12 of their next 13 got them on track before a recent three-game losing skid put the brakes on them moving even farther ahead of the Bombers. Both teams, however, have won their last outing so Friday’s game should be entertaining.
Other games on Friday have the red-hot Battlefords North Stars looking for their 13th straight win when they host the Melfort Mustangs, the much-improved Melville Millionaires travel to Notre Dame to take on the league’s leading scoring tandem of Ben Duperreault and Adam Dawe and the Viterra Division-leading Estevan Bruins continue with a three-games-in-three-nights swing when they take on the Klippers in Kindersley.
Not surprisingly the Battlefords have blasted past everyone to take the overall lead in the standings with their recent run of success. The North Stars, who have not lost since a 4-3 setback in Weyburn on Oct. 14, are now nine points clear of the Humboldt Broncos in the Finning Division standings and five points in front of Estevan for top spot overall.
The North Stars, who moved up two spots to sit 11th overall in the current Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings, have two of the top three goaltenders in Joel Gryzbowski (1.37 goals against average and .945 save percentage) and Taryn Kotchorek (2.08 GAA and .914 save percentage) to go with a balanced offence led by Layne Young (14-14-28), Connor Logan (11-14-25) and Coby Downs (9-12-21 in just 14 games).
The Battlefords, who have not lost at home since Sept. 26, will also host Estevan on Saturday in a game that will feature the two most explosive offences in the league. The North Stars enter the weekend having scored 102 goals in 25 games while the Bruins, who began their grueling swing with a 7-3 drubbing of the Broncos in Humboldt on Thursday, have 109 in the same amount of games. The big difference between these two clubs, however, is defence as the Battlefords have allowed a paltry 50 goals against while the Bruins are at 89 with 10 of those coming in a 10-3 loss the last time the two clubs met, which coincidentally was the start of the North Stars’ present streak.
Other games on Saturday have the aforementioned second end of the Yorkton-La Ronge doubleheader along with Flin Flon moving on to Humboldt and Notre Dame locking horns with the Red Wings in Weyburn.
Sunday’s schedule sees two more clubs complete three-in-threes with Flin Flon travelling to Melville and Yorkton making a stop in Melfort. The Terriers and Mustangs both begin the weekend with the second-longest current winning streaks at three games each, but that number pales to what is going on in the Battlefords. It does, however, make an interesting sidebar considering the Mustangs are the first opponent for the North Stars this weekend and the Terriers are the first test for the new era in La Ronge.
NOTES: The Battlefords were the only SJHL team to make the CJHL’s weekly top 20 with Estevan getting an honourable mention…Flin Flon’s Jason Lavallee has the longest active point-streak going with six goals and three assists in his last five games. The longest such streak this year was six games when Duperreault had eight goals and four assists at the beginning of October. Duperreault presently has another one going with four goals and four helpers in his last four contests…Despite losing three of their last four the Nipawin Hawks still have the best power play in the league operating at 23.6 per cent efficiency. Their penalty killing, however, has slipped to second best trailing Notre Dame (87.9 to 85.3)…Humboldt’s Garrett Mason continues to be the league workhorse in goal having appeared in 20 games and facing 557 shots. He also shares the league lead in wins with Hargrave at 11 each.
Yorkton at La Ronge
Melville at Notre Dame
Melfort at Battlefords
Estevan at Kindersley
Flin Flon at Nipawin
Yorkton at La Ronge
Estevan at Battlefords
Flin Flon at Humboldt
Notre Dame at Weyburn
Yorkton at Melfort
Flin Flon at Melville