Voice of the N.D. Hounds
Only one more week remains in the ‘Parity Madness’ that is the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s regular season. What a time to be alive!
Here are my 10 Things for this week:
1. The Spiciest Race For No. 1! – I’ve talked to a lot of people that have watched the SJ for years, and they are all saying the same thing: this year is as tight as any they’ve ever seen in the league. As we round the bend on the final week of the regular season (the last games will be played Tuesday, March 5), only four points separate the five (yes, 5!) teams that can still finish in first place. Nipawin is hanging on for dear life in first on 76 points, with Flin Flon, Melfort (twice), and Melville left on its schedule. Kindersley, Melfort, Battlefords, and Humboldt all have shots at the No. 1 spot as well, and it will be interesting to see if we are any wiser after the Hawks’ and Mustangs’ likely-to-be-epic Friday-Saturday home-and-home coming up! Those will be must-see TV folks (literally, the game on Saturday night in Melfort will be on MaxTV!).
2. Humboldt Dealt A Blow – The Broncos’ chances at No. 1 overall were dealt a little blow this past week as Scott Barney’s men played hard, but fell three times in a row to the red-hot Melfort Mustangs and Kindersley Klippers (twice). Sunday afternoon at the EPA was especially painful, as the Broncos came out flying against the division-rival Klips, taking a 3-0 lead at the 13:24-mark of the first period; but Clayton Jardine’s Kindersley mob never know when they’re out of a game, and climbed back with four straight goals to win 4-3. I can’t help but get jacked up when I think about what the playoffs are going to be like! Humboldt sits four points out of first place, with only two games left on the schedule: very tough ones against Kindersley and Battlefords.
3. New Podcast is Out! – Speaking of Scott Barney, he was kind enough to join me this week for episode No. 3 of the new official Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League podcast, hosted by yours truly! You can find the latest episode here: https://bit.ly/2IC2Ef6! We have a fun chat! I talked to Melfort forward, and North Dakota commit Carson Albrecht last week, and Kindersley head coach Clayton Jardine the week before that! Would appreciate a listen if you have time/interest! Fun times so far!
4. Ball Hits 50 and 100 – Congrats to Mustangs forward Justin Ball for hitting 50 goals and 100 points! What an accomplishment! Only two other SJHLers have scored 50 in a season this millennium by the way, with La Ronge’s Travis Eggum notching 58 in 2010-11, and Melfort’s Garrett Cameron putting in 53 back in 2002-2003. By comparison, last year’s goal-scoring champ, current University of Saskatchewan forward Layne Young, scored 35. Ball scored his 50th on Feb. 20 at Melville, and posted point No. 100 on Feb. 23,while assisting Jake Hobson’s second-period goal as part of a 6-3 victory over Kindersley.
5. Playoff Beards? – On a less serious note, who is going to grow the best playoff beard this year? Nipawin’s Michael Grant, currently of the University of Lethbridge, had the best one last year in my humble opinion, but any ideas out there who can grow a good one around the league? Comment below!
6. Vossen Out – Another coach was fired this past week as La Ronge gave Evan Vossen the sack last Wednesday. Vossen becomes the fourth SJHL bench boss to be given the slip this season, joining Wes Rudy (Weyburn), Devin Windle (Melville), and Nathan Oystrick (Humboldt). A Swift Current native, Vossen, 32, was in his second year as the coach of the Wolves, and was replaced by his 28-year-old assistant Gaelan Patterson. Patterson, out of Saskatoon, is a former draft pick of the Calgary Flames, and is in his first year of coaching after his retirement from professional hockey this past off-season. The Ice Wolves had lost 14 in a row before this decision was made.
7. Mustangs On A Rampage – I know this is a Mustangs-heavy blog post, but the ‘Stangs are on an absolute tear. Nine wins in a row at time of this writing, and of those victories, only one included fewer than five Melfort goals (a 4-3 shootout win over Battlefords at home on Feb 16). Buoyed by the league’s No. 1 power play, one clicking at a hair under 24 per-cent as of Feb. 26, and a monster 10-game, 25-point scoring streak for Mr. Ball, the Mustangs are getting solid goaltending from Shawn Parkinson and Noah Giesbrecht, and likely have the fewest question-marks heading into the post-season. No idea who will finish No. 1 in the SJ (see point No. 1 in this blog), but the Mustangs would be a great pick right now.
8. Do You Know Who Jarrett Penner Is? – If you don’t, you should probably emerge from your rock. Notre Dame’s 2000-born rookie forward started the year on the fourth line, with two points from his first 13 games, and has since been one of the league’s best stories, hitting 21 goals and 40 points on the year, at time of writing, with a consistency of effort and performance that has to have ND bench boss Phil Roy thrilled. An output of seven points in the two games over the past weekend has the Saskatoon native as the reigning SJHL rookie of the week, and at 6’2 and 170-pounds, he’s a big boy with good speed, a great motor, a love of the front of the net, and an incredible team-first attitude. I have a ton of time for this guy, and can’t say enough good things about him. Ask the D that have had to deal with him in the second half of the year too, he’s a lot to handle! Can’t wait to see how he continues to develop!
9. Battlefords Crazy PK – Speaking of something that is a lot to handle, head coach Brayden Klimosko has his Battlefords North Stars penalty kill humming along at an incredible clip, sitting second overall right now at 86.9 per cent, but a league-best 91 per cent on the road. A big part of that is the fact that MacGregor Sinclair, and Braydon Buziak are absolute machines on the faceoff, so the puck always seems to start 200-feet from Joel Grzybowski’s net, and beyond that, their killers are incredibly tenacious, aggressive, and fully willing to block a ton of shots. That Stars PK is a real credit to Klimosko and his staff right now.
10. Well Done Team Sask! (bonus) – For sure the bronze medal game against Team Alberta at the Canada Winter Games last week did not at all go the way that Team Saskatchewan wanted, but I have to give Team Sask so much credit for the way it played all tournament, and for getting to the bronze game in the first place! Kootenay Ice assistant coach Gordon Burnett was the head coach of the team, and his men pulled off big group stage wins over Manitoba, and Alberta, before dropping a 2-0 lead in the semi-finals against Quebec. Not surprisingly, Medicine Hat Tigers super prospect and Regina Pats Canadians star Cole Sillinger led the way with 10 points in the event (he’s also an Estevan Bruins draft pick, by the way), while future Prince Albert Raiders defender Nolan Allan also made a real name for himself with four goals and six points from the back end. Moose Jaw Warriors (and Humboldt Broncos) prospect goaltender Brett Mirwald was outstanding all tournament until his numbers got ruined by the disastrous bronze-medal game! Keep an eye on Mirwald folks! He’s been outstanding as a 15-year-old 1a-1b goaltender for the Saskatoon Blazers midget AAA this year (along with Regina Pats call-up net minder Matt Pesenti).
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)