By Dave Leaderhouse
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular season is in the books and it came down to the final night of play to finalize the opening best-of-three Wild Card match-ups.
The Weyburn Red Wings’ 5-1 win over the Yorkton Terriers on Friday leapfrogged them past the idle Notre Dame Hounds into seventh place and they will now meet the Melville Millionaires beginning on Sunday in Weyburn. Game 2 will be in Melville on Tuesday before reverting back to Weyburn on Wednesday, if necessary.
That left the Hounds as the No. 8 seed and they will take on the Flin Flon Bombers with that series also beginning on Sunday in northern Manitoba before reverting back to Wilcox for the final two games on Tuesday and, if necessary, on Wednesday.
You always want to finish as high as you can in the standings, but in this case the Weyburn win on Friday has an interesting sidebar.
Had the Red Wings lost to Yorkton they would have been pitted against Flin Flon, a team they swept in the regular season. Conversely, Notre Dame would then have went up against Melville, an opponent they dominated by collecting 11 of a possible 12 points during the regular campaign.
As it now stands, both Weyburn and Notre Dame draw opponents that provide little separation as the regular-season match-ups with Melville and Flin Flon respectively were almost dead even.
Following is a glimpse at what happened during the regular season when the Wild Card opponents faced each other.
Flin Flon (9) vs Notre Dame (8)
The Hounds and Bombers met four times with each team winning twice and three of those four contests being decided by just one goal.
The first meeting was a 2-1 Notre Dame victory in a shootout in a game played in Saskatoon during the annual Showcase on Sept. 25. Less than three weeks later in Notre Dame the Hounds won 6-1 and two weeks after that the Bombers picked up their first victory over the Hounds with a 4-3 decision in Flin Flon. It would be just over four months later before they would complete the season series and once again the Bombers prevailed by a 4-3 margin, this time in Notre Dame.
While the Hounds outscored the Bombers 14-10 overall there was one glaring statistic that favoured Flin Flon and that was on the powerplay where the Bombers went 6-for-16 while Notre Dame was 1-for-22. The Hounds also held a decided advantage in shots on goal – 142 to 121 – but with Flin Flon netminder Brandon Newton back to full health that could be a difference maker.
Offensively, Ethan Daniels paced the Bombers against Notre Dame scoring twice and setting up two more in the four meetings while Chance Longjohn Chaz Smedsrud each had five points for Notre Dame in the season series.
Newton was the goaltender of record for Flin Flon in the first two games, both losses, while Jacob Standen posted a 2-1-0-0 ledger in his three starts against the Bombers. Those two will undoubtedly be the go-to-guys, especially in a shortened series.
Notre Dame has home-ice advantage in the series, but should Flin Flon win that first game at the Whitney Fourm on Sunday then the momentum definitely swings in their favour despite the Hounds having a very solid 20-8-0-1 record at the Duncan McNeill Arena.
The winner of this series will meet either the Nipawin Hawks or Battlefords North Stars in the quarter-final round, which is set to begin on Friday.
Melville (10) vs Weyburn (7)
A coin flip is about what it amounts to being the difference in this series.
Melville won five of the eight meetings, but four of their victories came in overtime leaving the Millionaires with a 5-3-0-0 record while the Red Wings were 3-1-4-0 – good enough for 10 points each.
Each team won twice in Melville and for the series each team scored 20 goals. The only real differences were Melville winning three of four in Weyburn and the Red Wings outshooting the Millionaires 259-222. Special teams also favoured the Red Wings as Weyburn was 9-for-31 in the series while Melville went 2-for-21.
The series began with three straight games in Melville and the Millionaires winning the first two by identical 3-2 margins. Both of those games also ended in overtime. Weyburn then got their first win with a 4-3 decision on Nov. 4 and followed that up with two more victories – 4-1 on Nov. 13 in Weyburn and 4-2 on Dec. 6 in Melville. The last three games were all in Weyburn and Melville won all three with two of those needing extra time. Melville edged the Red Wings 2-1 in overtime on Dec. 13, 3-1 on Jan. 26 and 3-2 in overtime on Feb. 24.
Colby Entz was the workhorse in the Millionaires’ goal winning three of his five appearances while Arik Weersink was 2-1-3-0 in his six starts for the Red Wings.
Offensively, the Millionaires were led by Cory Schillo with three goals and four assists including a pair of overtime winners. Damian Bentz and Issac Embree each collected six points in the season series while team captain Clayton Eisler chipped in with three goals and two assists.
For the Red Wings, Cade Kowalski and Tyran Brown each had seven points against Melville while Erik Olson, Cole Woodliffe, Jordan Kazymyra and Weyburn captain Mike Eskra all had five points.
The Millionaires were slow out of the gate to start the season going 3-9-0-1 in their first 13 games, but they had points in eight of their last 10 down the stretch. Weyburn on the flip side were 10-2-1 to start the season, but finished with just a .500 mark in their final 10 games.
There is very little to pick between these two, but Weyburn is going to have to take advantage of home-ice advantage if they hope to move on to the quarter-finals.
Should Melville prevail they will draw the Nipawin Hawks in the next round while a Weyburn victory would pit them against the Battlefords North Stars regardless of what happens in the other series.