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Sunday, March 5, 2017

STACKHOUSE'S SOAPBOX: SJHL PLAYOFF CHATTER

Part of what makes the SJHL a fun league to watch and follow is its parity; however I was convinced right up until a couple of days ago that this is the one season where there is just no chance that two of Battlefords, Nipawin, and Flin Flon are not playing in the Canalta Cup final.  Those three teams have been the most dominant from the start to the finish.

I still feel those three teams are the class of the league, especially the North Stars, but there are two middling clubs that are finding their form at just the right time and could pose a problem for the higher ups.

In Yorkton, the Terriers ended the regular season on an eight game unbeaten streak and jumped up to secure the coveted sixth seed for the playoffs.  Why is sixth such a big deal?  Well, it keeps you out of the wildcard round (7th vs 10th, 8th vs 9th) so that you are not beat up and set to have your rear end handed to you by a much superior team that is very well rested while watching you play as much as five times in a seven day stretch.

The Terriers are going to go up against the Estevan Bruins (3rd seed) in the quarter-finals and the Bruins did win four of the six meetings head to head during the regular season; but Yorkton had a better overall mark in a very important statistic when it comes to playoffs --- goals against.  Nathan Hargrave really stabilized the netminding position for the Terriers and they go into this series with a very solid nucleus up front, led by ex-WHLers Jared Legien, Dakota Odgers, and Jordan Ross.  Add to that a defense that is solid, but unspectacular, with NCAA bound Regan Seiferling, the always improving LJ Naccarato, and Tyler Baier and there is the possibility of an upset here.

The Bruins’ lack of playoff success in recent years is well-documented.  They’ve fallen short of expectations numerous times.  I like their team, offensively, but they’ll have to prove they’ve managed to minimize the leaks on defense; even though they may have the best overall blueliner in the series in the form of Josh Rieger.  They’ve also got enough forwards that any one of their top three lines can be a number one line on any given night.  I’m not picking Yorkton to win, and I always find myself pulling for the Bruins because Chris Lewgood is a very good coach, and even better human being, and he deserves success.

But, this won’t be as easy as it looked a month ago.

The other team that is going to, maybe, throw a massive monkey wrench into how the playoffs shake loose is Notre Dame.  Again, I look at how well are you keeping the goals out and Benjamin Patt is doing it with the best of them (8-2-2-and-1, 2.10, .929) since the beginning of February.  They almost rose from 10th to 5th in a matter of a couple of weeks; but the standings were so tight that they ended up 7th even though they were just a single point behind 5th place Humboldt.  Assuming they defeat Melfort or Melville in the Wildcard Round, they’ll get Nipawin or Flin Flon in the quarters and the Hounds actually went a combined 3-4-and-1 against those two teams, which is a really good record considering the discrepancy in the standings.

The Hounds have the league’s top player (Ben Duperreault), the league’s hottest goalie in Patt, the league’s hottest defenseman (Nick Rein), and the league’s top rookie (Adam Dawe).  That’s worth something to me and they are my pick for an upset special.

Quietly, a few critics are telling me that Battlefords’ dominant regular season can’t be taken seriously because the goaltending isn’t that good.  Say what?  Taryn Kotchorek and Joel Gryzbowski are going to set an all-time record for fewest goals allowed by an SJHL team in a single season so I fail to see how one could say the two netminders aren’t that good.  I think what people see is that Kotchorek and Gryzbowski will, often, go untested in games because the Stars dominate so much.  But, the reality is that bad goaltending can make a really good team look bad.  If these guys weren’t good, the Stars wouldn’t have waltzed like they did through the regular season.  They don’t make the Stars a better team the way Kristian Stead does in Nipawin or the way Patt has turned things around for the Hounds; but both kids are solid.

In recent years, the goaltender position has been the achilles heel for the Stars and maybe it’s just assumed that while the faces have changed the problem really hasn’t.  I think those that are waiting for Kotchorek and Gryzbowski to fail in the playoffs are going to be in for a very, very long wait.  I think it’s going to require an opposing goalie to play out of his mind to beat the Stars and that could very well happen as Zac Robidoux and Brenden Newton in Flin Flon have shown that in the past.  Stead is the league MVP.  But, that doesn’t mean goaltending will be the Stars undoing.

To me, they are the favorites and it will take an overachieving performance from someone to beat them and I hope people will see these two guys are not a product of a great team in front of them, but rather just another part of what makes the Stars so great.

The playoffs begin this weekend with Weyburn taking on Kindersley and the Hounds facing either Melfort or Melville (to be determined Tuesday in the regular season finale).  Looks like another fun postseason.

*Mike Stackhouse is Yorkton freelance reporter and contributor to RodPedersen.com.

3 comments:

TKP said...

The Bruins need some killer instinct. If they can just keep pushing for the entire game instead of backing off and trying to nurse wins home, they will do well. Tons of talent - just need the desire every night.

Anonymous said...

Always good to see some SJ on this site. Please keep up the good reporting and coverage of a much under appreciated league.

Brendan McGuire said...

Go BRUINS!