By Dave Leaderhouse
The landscape of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s divisional races could change dramatically this weekend as a number of games will have implications on how things will look when the busy holiday schedule is completed on Monday.
No other match will have a bigger impact than the Sherwood Division showdown on Friday between the Melfort Mustangs and Nipawin Hawks.
Melfort enters the weekend with a four-point bulge on their rivals from Nipawin, but the Hawks have two games in hand leaving them, for all intents and purposes, in a dead heat. A Mustang win would give them a bit of breathing room, but a Nipawin victory would draw them within two points of the frontrunners while still maintaining those games in hand.
The Mustangs, who exploded out of the gate with eight straight victories to start the season, have won their last two outings, which coincidentally has been without a pair of players who are serving league-imposed suspensions following a game played in Flin Flon at the beginning of the month. Loch Morrison will finish his three-game sentence on Friday while Drew Warkentine is in the midst of a seven-game banishment.
Nipawin is coming off a heavy schedule that saw them make a pair of swings through the southern portion of the province in a 14-day span. Despite picking up just one victory in each of those tours, the Hawks have been able to keep Melfort well within striking distance and they can move even closer with a win in Melfort on Friday. Nipawin is also at home to the Estevan Bruins on Sunday while Melfort heads to Melville on Saturday for a date with the Millionaires.
The Viterra Division also has two teams that have separated themselves from the rest with Estevan and the Weyburn Red Wings taking turns at the top.
The Bruins reclaimed first place on Thursday with an overtime victory in Flin Flon against the Bombers and they will resume their tour of the northern part of the province with stops in La Ronge on Saturday in addition to Sunday’s visit to the Cage in Nipawin.
The Red Wings complete a stretch that will have seen them play nine of their last 10 on the road when they play Kindersley again on Friday and the Battlefords on Saturday. Weyburn, who opened their swing through west-central Saskatchewan on Thursday with a 3-2 setback in Kindersley, will return home on Monday for a tilt against the Melville Millionaires.
The Olympic Buildings Division is a four-horse race with just five points separating the four teams.
The Humboldt Broncos have nosed ahead of the others with points in their last five outings and they will look to extend that run with a home-and-home series against the Yorkton Terriers this weekend.
One point back of the Broncos is the defending league champions, but the North Stars have six games in hand on the frontrunners and with just Saturday’s match against the Red Wings on the schedule they will gain yet another game in hand on Humboldt following weekend action.
The Notre Dame Hounds, who are only two points out of the divisional lead after picking up points in their last three outings, have just a Friday game against Melville while Kindersley completes its weekend play with Friday’s rematch against Weyburn. The Klippers have feasted on Viterra Division opponents so far this year having gone 4-0 with all four previous matches having been played at the West Central Events Centre.
While hockey is front and centre this weekend the SJHL wants to also salute all of the service people, past and present, on this special Remembrance Day weekend. One cannot forget the sacrifices that have been, and continue to be made, to ensure that we live in the greatest country on the planet.
SJHL NOTES – Weyburn forward Cole Woodliffe was held off the scoresheet in Thursday’s loss to the Klippers ending a 10-game run with at least one point (4-12-16 totals). That leaves the Battlefords’ Layne Young and Humboldt’s Logan Schatz with the longest current streaks entering the weekend. Young, in fact, has at least one point in every North Stars’ game this year having posted 12 goals and 19 assists in 14 games while Schatz is on an eight-game tear picking up five goals and seven helpers in that span…Estevan’s Zach Goberis registered a pair of assists in Thursday’s win in Flin Flon expanding his lead to five points over Young in the individual scoring race. As noted earlier the North Stars hold as many as six games on other teams putting a bit of an asterisk on their results until they catch up on everyone in games played…Nipawin has consistently been one of the top defensive teams in the league and as a result their goaltending tandem of rookie Jake Anthony and Declan Hobbs now occupy the top two spots in netminding statistics. Anthony has a 1.96 goals-against average in seven appearances while Hobbs is close behind at 2.09 in nine games. Anthony also has the best save percentage at .929 with Weyburn’s Carter Phair falling slightly behind to .927 after Thursday’s abbreviated start in Kindersley…The Klippers improved play of late can largely be attributed to their success in killing off penalties. Kindersley boasts the best penalty-killing record with an 88.4 per cent success rate and that performance has been needed as they are the most penalized team in the league. Interestingly, the Klippers are the lone team not to score a shorthanded goal yet this year.
Nipawin at Melfort
Yorkton at Humboldt
Weyburn at Kindersley
Notre Dame at Melville
Melfort at Melville
Estevan at La Ronge
Weyburn at Battlefords
Humboldt at Yorkton
Estevan at Nipawin
Melville at Weyburn