By Dave Leaderhouse
It was a week of change in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Late on Thursday it was announced that the Melville Millionaires have relieved head coach and general manager Devin Windle of his duties after two-plus years of service while the La Ronge Ice Wolves made a number of roster moves to try and shake things up and snap out of a 12-game losing streak.
Melville, who has yet to name a replacement for Windle, will play one game this weekend when they host the Nipawin Hawks on Friday while La Ronge entertains the Weyburn Red Wings in their lone outing, also on Friday. As it stands, Melville and La Ronge are the two teams on the outside looking in if the playoffs were to start right now so it will be interesting to see if the shake-ups work in their favour.
While the bottom teams were active in finding solutions to difficult starts to their respective seasons, the top clubs continue to motor along.
The Melfort Mustangs stretched their season-high winning streak to 10 games with a convincing 9-1 decision over Weyburn on Tuesday and they will look to extend that run this weekend when they welcome the Yorkton Terriers and Estevan Bruins to the Northern Lights Palace.
Melfort has moved to the top of the Sherwood Division standings as a result of their recent success and after the Humboldt Broncos’ 2-0 setback to the Kindersley Klippers on Thursday they find themselves tied for first place overall with three games in hand on the Broncos.
Nipawin is just two points back of both Melfort and Humboldt as they too have put together a nice little streak with four straight victories. The Hawks, who have a pair of games in hand on Humboldt, but have played one extra game than Melfort, will return home from Melville following Friday’s game to take on the Red Wings at the Cage on Saturday.
Humboldt has just one game this weekend when they will host Yorkton in the lone game on Sunday. The Broncos have enjoyed a surprising first half of the season, but Thursday’s loss to Kindersley stretched their winless skid to three games.
Other games this weekend impact middle-of-the-pack teams as the Notre Dame Hounds make a quick swing through the west-central part of the province with stops in the Battlefords and Kindersley. The Hounds are the bottom team in the tough Global Ag Risk Solutions Division, but a pair of victories over the North Stars and Klippers would bring them even with both clubs and create a three-way tie for second behind the Broncos.
The Estevan Bruins conclude a gruelling four-games-in-five-nights swing through the north, similar to that of the Red Wings, with stops in Flin Flon to play the Bombers on Friday and Melfort on Saturday. The Bruins, who will lose head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood for the next two weeks following the weekend’s action when he assumes his assistant coaching duties for Team West at the World Junior A Challenge, are tied with Yorkton for first place in the Viterra Division, but the Terriers have six games in hand.
Flin Flon’s game against Estevan will be the only one on the schedule for the Bombers and they will look to make the most of it as they try to keep pace with Melfort and Nipawin ahead of them in the Sherwood Division race. The Bombers are seven points out of first place, but they too have games in hand on both frontrunners.
SJHL NOTES – There’s a new leader in the individual scoring race with Melfort’s Justin Ball having moved past Brandson Hein of Flin Flon. Ball has been held off the scoresheet just once this year and with 43 points in his last 25 games he is now two points clear of Hein, who was the frontrunner since opening day. Ball has also assumed the goal-scoring lead over Hein thanks to nine goals in his last seven games. Two of Ball’s teammates with the Mustangs, Carson Albrecht and Kayle Tosh, have also put up impressive numbers recently with both having recorded points in their last eight games. Albrecht’s 16 points during that stretch has him sitting in third in the individual race with 42 points – four back of Ball – while Tosh has 13 points during that span, including 11 assists. Tosh leads the league in assists with 30 and is also the highest-scoring defenceman with 35 points overall…The goaltending story continues to be a two-man race and coincidentally it is the pair that shared the SaskTel goaltender of the year award last season. Nipawin’s Declan Hobbs has a paltry 1.81 goals-against average in 20 appearances and he also possesses the best save percentage at .942. Kindersley’s Justen Close is not far behind after his shutout win in Humboldt on Thursday as he now has a 2.03 GAA and .931 save percentage. The shutout on Thursday was Closes’s first of the season while Hobbs leads all netminders with five…Still with goaltenders, Weyburn’s Riley Lamb has an impressive six assists this year. To put that into perspective, the Notre Dame Hounds as a team have three assists registered by their goaltending tandem. No one else has more than one assist…Something really rare is taking place in the Western Hockey League where the Prince Albert Raiders have scored more shorthanded goals than powerplay goals they have allowed. The Raiders are presently +6 in that rarified stat. By comparison, the best team in the SJHL is the Battlefords at -10. Flin Flon has scored the most short-handed goals with nine, which is already more than they netted all of last year…Finally, good luck wishes are being passed out to Humboldt’s Chase Felguerias, Flin Flon’s Vincent Nardone and Notre Dame’s Tim Gould and Nolan Renwick as they head to Calgary after this weekend to try and secure spots with Team West for the World Junior A Challenge. They, along with Estevan head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood, will be trying to defend the title won last year when this year’s event begins Dec. 9 in Bonnyville, Alta.
Notre Dame at Battlefords
Estevan at Flin Flon
Weyburn at La Ronge
Yorkton at Melfort
Nipawin at Melville
Notre Dame at Kindersley
Estevan at Melfort
Weyburn at Nipawin
Yorkton at Humboldt