Wednesday, March 29, 2017
STACKHOUSE'S SOAPBOX: SJHL PLAYOFFS
Flin Flon vs Nipawin
Assuming regular season records mean nothing, the SJHL semi-final series between Flin Flon and Nipawin should be one of the best head-to-head match ups this league has seen in a number of years.
The Bombers won the Sherwood Division with a record of 39-14-5, while the Hawks finished tied with them at 40-15-3, but the Bombers held the tiebreaker advantage. The Bombers had a better offense (245-200 in goals scored), but Nipawin was stingier keeping them out (118-150). The discrepancy is head to head. Flin Flon won seven of eight meetings (Hawks were 1-6-and-1 against Flin Flon) this year, so if that trend continues the anticipation of an amazing back and forth series will end up disappointing us all.
The other thing to watch for here is that Flin Flon was nearly unbeatable at home, but their 17-11-1 road record is, somewhat, ordinary for a club that finished with the second best overall record. The Hawks were close to being the same team at home as they were on the road (44 pts at home, 39 pts on the road), so they appear to stand a decent chance at stealing a game at the Whitney Forum at some point. Should they do that, the pressure switches to Flin Flon.
In the quartersfinals, the Hawks used their goaltending advantage to sweep the Humboldt Broncos. Kristian Stead didn’t give the Broncos anything to build on and it seemed that there was always that one extra goal that was the difference in each game as Stead held the Broncos to just 7 goals in 4 games. The Bombers have a much more formidable offense than Humboldt; however their top players really didn’t get much going in their five game series win over Notre Dame. That was, especially, the case over the last three games so the play of Flin Flon’s top six forwards will be something to keep an eye on through the early going of this series.
The silver lining is that depth isn’t an issue for them as fourth liner Brody Madarash was a key contributor in the game five clincher and Kristian St. Onge picked up three goals and five points. For Nipawin, the trio of Josh Bly, Eric Bolden, and Brandan Arnold are as good as anyone and rookie defenseman Josh McDougall has had a major breakthrough as an elite player despite rookie status.
Battlefords vs Estevan
The Battlefords North Stars will go into their series with Estevan as heavy favorites, but the Bruins won twice in the four head-to-head meetings during the regular season. Estevan isn’t afraid to run and gun and they have the personnel to do it well and that is where the Stars could be vulnerable.
This is a series where they may have to rely on Taryn Kotchorek to come up with some timely saves. Star defenseman Kendall Fransoo has been out with an injury and his status is uncertain for this series. That leaves a huge hole in their line up despite incredible depth one through six on the back end. Kotchorek, by the way, split time with rookie Joel Gryzbowski between the pipes during the regular season; but it appears as though the crease belongs to Kotchorek until there is a reason to go with Gryzbowski.
As long as the Bruins stick to the game plan and don’t force Nathan Alalouf to try and steal games, they have a shot here. They don’t have the same depth as Battlefords, but Evan Scott and Josh Rieger should be fresh after the five game series victory over Yorkton. They anchor the blueline. Up front, there are as many as eight forwards that can bite you. The one I’ll be watching close is Lynnden Pastachak, who was held to one goal and two points against Yorkton. He has bust out potential and as his junior career winds down, he may have some extra motivation to kick it into a higher gear. There have been stretches over the last three years where Pastachak has put together streaks where he is the most dangerous offensive player in the league.
The North Stars go into this series untested. They swept a banged up Weyburn team in four straight. The Wings played without starting goalie Carter Phair, who was injured in the wild card round, so their ridiculous total of 24 goals in 4 games is, somewhat, misleading. The Bruins, while not known as a lock down defensive team, will be better than that. Ben Allen led the way with 6 goals in the Weyburn series and Coby Downs put up 9 assists.
In the last series, I had the pleasure of watching the two games in Wilcox as the Hounds and Bombers split the two games there. Adam Dawe, who had missed the first three of the series, returned for the game four win and the difference he made to the Hounds lineup was enormous. He had three assists in the first period of his first game back and then had an assist on his team’s only goal in the game five loss. It’s expected Dawe will play another year of junior before heading off to his NCAA career. It would be great if that additional year is spent at Notre Dame. There aren’t many who are worth the price of admission anymore, but Dawe is one of them.
If you are a follower of the league, you may have noticed an abundance of penalties at the end of game four in the Hounds-Bomber series. From my point of view, this is how it all unfolded: The Bombers scored with 27 seconds left to close the gap to 6-4. There was a skirmish at the side of the net and penalties were called at the same time the puck crossed the line. There was a lengthy discussion at the penalty box, then with the captains at centre, and then at the players’ benches.
To me, I’d like to see a quick whistle and a puck drop at centre ice regardless of any scene a coach may be making on the bench. The reality is that with 27 seconds left, the Hounds are going to win. So, let’s get out of here without the game getting stupid. Instead, what happened during the long explanation was that tempers started to flare and then when the puck did, finally, get dropped at centre; the Bombers sent big defenseman Dale Masson out to take the draw. At this point, everyone drops one mitt simultaneously and we have a modern day line brawl. This wasn’t a punch up. Many of the players on the ice tried to keep one glove on in hopes of avoiding a suspension for fighting. Multiple fights sure aren’t what they used to be.
Nevertheless, what we have is, exactly, what I like: the four best teams in the regular season are through to the semis. The best hockey comes when the best teams play as long as possible. Each series begins on Friday.
*Mike Stackhouse is a Yorkton-based freelance reporter and contributor to RodPedersen.com