Voice of the N.D. Hounds
There are between seven and 10 games left in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League regular season, depending on the club, and incredibly, the playoff picture is still about as clear as mud! Here are my 10 things for this week!
1. First To Ninth Is Still Up For Grabs – So many playoff questions still up in the air! Here are the only four things we can say with any sort of solidity (though still no certainty!): 1) Nipawin is going to win the Sherwood Division, barring an epic collapse; 2) Notre Dame is going to be in the survivor series in either eighth or ninth; 3) Estevan and Yorkton will either win the Viterra and finish third, or not win the Viterra and face ND in that survivor series in eighth or ninth; and 4) Melville or Weyburn will either get the last survivor spot, or miss the playoffs entirely. Everything else is way up in the air! Talk about parity. Really only 10 points between first and seventh place. Don’t sleep on Kindersley taking the No. 1 overall seed…
2. Bruins Are Flying – Chris Lewgood has something going with his Bruins. Sure, they’ve beat up on some struggling competition lately, but they have nine wins out of 10, and they were dropping those games against teams with less talent than they earlier in the year. Here’s a stat for you: Estevan averages 37 shots-on-goal per game, and gives up 28 shots-on-goal per game; those are second and best in the SJHL, respectively. A little puck luck and who knows how far this veteran-and-talent-laden Estevan team can go? Has Kadin Kilpatrick, the reigning Manitoba midget goaltender of the year, stolen the starting job from Grant Boldt? Well, he’s started the last five in a row, four of them wins, though Boldt was hurt at the start of that streak. It’s still a very manageable schedule the rest of the way for Estevan, so they are big-time favourites in my mind to win the Viterra, and take that third spot in the final league standings.
3. Broncos On An Absolute Tear – Speaking of recent tears, I talked about the Broncos figuring it out last week, and after scoring 11 goals in their last two, both against the Weyburn Red Wings, that trend has not changed. They haven’t faced a team higher than the survivor series since mid-January, but they are looking as good as Scott Barney could hope, as they have a far-morebrutal end to the campaign. They have three dates with Kindersley, and end the year at home to Battlefords, so strap yourselves in fans of the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division! Should be a real battle to the end in the SJHL’s toughest division, with only two points separating first from third, at time of writing.
4. Kindersley-Yorkton Put on a Show on MaxTV – Was really excited to get a chance to do colour commentary with Mike Stackhouse, and in a game hosted by Darren Dupont, as Kindersley faced Yorkton in Kindersley last Saturday on MaxTV, brought to you by SaskTel. Four hours’ drive each way was pretty taxing, but the great news is that the Klips and Terriers put on a great show, and Clayton Jardine’s Kindersley mob simply found a way to overcome an early injury to Ty Enns, and hang on to a 4-2 win. Really appreciated the opportunity, and hope to get more in the future! What a performance in this one by ChantzPetruic of the Terriers on one hand, and Justen Close on the other!
5. Kudos to Klatt! – Speaking of the Terriers, got to give a shout out to Yorkton forward Branden Klatt, who committed to play for the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Alberta College hockey this past weekend! An excellent league with a ton of Junior A, and a growing among of Major Junior talent, and Klatt has been excellent and consistent for Yorkton this campaign. The Moose Jaw native played 209 games in the Western Hockey League with the Edmonton Oil Kings and his hometown Warriors, before joining the Terriers this year as their top-line centreman. Well done Branden!
6. Rookie of the Year? Who Knows… – Anybody have a handle on rookie of the year at this point in the campaign? Call me biased if you want, but the most talented rookie in the SJHL is absolutely Nolan Renwick of the Notre Dame Hounds, but I’m not sure if he has been healthy enough this year to win the award (hope I’m wrong!). His ND teammates and fellow rookies in goaltender Riley Kohonick, and defender Kyle Robinson have both been spectacular, while Melville’s Luke Spadafora, Humboldt’s Chase Felgueiras, and Yorkton’s Aiden Bulych are all also good choices. So many possibilities! I still say the best player of that group is Renwick, for whatever that’s worth (not much!).
7. Secondary Scoring in Melfort – What a year of high ups, and low down for the Melfort Mustangs (I guess the downs haven’t been that low…they could easily finish fourth); but the performances have been gone from SJHL-best types, to lose-to-anyone types. What might have caused that effect is a perceived lack of secondary scoring behind Justin Ball and Carson Albrecht, but that fear might be completely finished. Twenty-year-old Colin Schmidt has been on an absolute roll since Jan. 11, scoring 13 goals and 20 points over those 11 games. Former Regina Pat George King has also more-than pulled his weight, with six goals and 13 points over that same span since his acquisition from Dauphin in the Manitoba league. Yep, ready to declare the Mustangs a deep scoring team now.
8. Let’s Crown The Scoring Champ Right Now… – That all being said, let’s just crown Melfort’s Ball the league regular-season scoring champ right now. The 20-year-old from Saskatoon has 47 goals, and 87 points in 49 games, he has been unstoppable all year, and plays the leading roll on the league’s best power play, that is almost a full two per-cent more efficient than the second-best man-advantage in Flin Flon. Another interesting Melfort stat is that the Mustangs have had the second-most power-play goals scored in the league so far, with the fewest power-play opportunities. Now that is efficiency!
9. SJHL All-Underrated Picks… – There are so many underappreciated guys around the league that I could easily pick a full squad of underrated types! Notre Dame’s Hardy Wagner tops my list as the league’s most underrated Dman, tied with Battlefords’ Matthew Fletcher. Up front, I’ll go with Owen Guenter of Humboldt, Austin Nault of Kindersley, and Owen Lamb of Battlefords. In net I’ll go with Weyburn’s Cody Levesque, who I think will be a star in this league next year. A lot of good options to go around though! Let me know in the comments who yours are!
10. Sask University teams in the playoffs! (bonus) – Have to send a shout out to the two Saskatchewan University women’s hockey teams starting the post-season next week! The University of Regina finished the year as Canada West’s sixth seed, and will head to Vancouver for a best-of-three set against the UBC Thunderbirds on Friday night.The No. 4 Huskies of the University of Saskatchewan will host the No. 5 Mount Royal Cougars at MerlisBelsher Arena in Saskatoon at the same time. Good luck to all! The Huskies men finished the season as the first seed in Canada West, and will take their bye on the weekend to await the lowest remaining seed after this weekend’s first round, likely to be UBC.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)