Voice of the ND Hounds
IT’S FINAL FOUR TIME KIDS! No, I don’t just mean in NCAA basketball (WAR EAGLE, BY THE WAY), but also in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, where the semi-finals are up and running.
Melfort is up 2-1 on Estevan and Battlefords leads Yorkton 3-0 in games. Game 4's are Wednesday evening in Estevan and Yorkton.
Here are my 10 things!:
1. Do The Mustangs Even Need Secondary Scoring? – They actually got some in their Game 3 loss at Estevan’s Affinity Place (3-2 on Tuesday), as Zach Anderson and Colin Schmidt notched the Melfort goals; but Justin Ball and Carson Albrecht combined have totalled precisely half the Mustang tallies after eight games played. The Bruins also managed to buck the trend by keeping the league’s most dominant duo off the scoreboard on Tuesday, which means the question might actually be: “does Melfort need those guys to score in order to win?” A very similar, but slightly different question. One thing is for sure: the ‘Stangs fans breathed a huge sigh of relief to see Jake Hobson back on the Melfort blue line Tuesday, after their most important D-man (yes I know, Tosh is there too, and he is very talented) was out in Game 2. I feel like this series has a long, long way to go. Estevan hosts Melfort Wednesday in Game 4 with the Mustangs up 2-1 in the series.
2. Grzybowski Playing Out Of His Mind – The Yorkton-Battlefords series might not have a long way to go, and a big part of it has been the magnificence of the Stars’ Joel Grzybowski, who leads the SJHL in every meaningful goaltending category. The Hafford, SK native has four shutouts in 11 playoff starts, and has only given up 17 goals over that span, which is incredibly impressive, especially since he did have one tough game against Flin Flon in which he gave up five. He was not overly busy in Battlefords’ Game 3 win, but he made a few great stops (such as a very late third-period breakaway save on Cody Bruchkowski, and a point-blank stonewall on Chantz Petruic, after a defensive-zone turnover by Owen Lamb), and the ability to stay focused, and make Grade A stops when the puck is regularly in the other end is an extremely under-appreciated ability. I’m sure Joel would be the first to say it: the D-Corps ahead of him has also been superb.
3. Battleford’s Bash Brothers – North Stars’ bench boss Brayden Klimosko knows he has a solid forward corps from top to bottom, and he has gotten offence from everywhere. That being said, the combination of the Loon-Stewardson brothers Elijah and Quintin, along with WHL veteran Brayden Buziak, has been just money all post-season so far. The younger brother of that group Quintin leads the way in points with five goals and seven helpers, but those three guys play the game hard, and the right way. I wrote about the bros from Sioux Lookout in the extreme northwest of Ontario in a past column, but I feel like their game is made for the playoffs. Quintin, by the way, is only a 2000 birth-year, and is Ontario Hockey League property of the Windsor Spitfires. Would not at all be surprised to see him in Major Junior when the puck drops on 2019-2020…sorry Battlefords fans.
4. Yorkton Running Out Of Gas? – Now, I am not at all chirping the No. 8 seeded Terriers; they have not played poorly in their series against the No. 2 ranked Battlefords North Stars (maybe with the exception of the second period of Game 1), despite being down 3-0, and facing elimination Wednesday night at home. I just wonder, if after going the distance in the Survivor Series AND expending a ton of energy in going seven rounds while upsetting the Nipawin Hawks, are they running low on gas? They made a great push late in Game 3 at home, getting the chances I listed above, as well as others including a missed empty net by the aforementioned Bruchkowski with about 30 seconds left in regulation, but how much do they have left? It would be foolish at time of writing to declare Yorkton dead and buried, even while they face that hole against my pre-post-season championship favourites, but the road back is very long, and the Stars are a machine right now. We’ll find out starting Wednesday night in Game 4 what Yorkton has left!
5. Pre-game On Facebook Live A Great Success – Great stuff by the SJHL getting seasoned broadcasters Rod Pedersen and Darren Dupont on Facebook Live, for a pre-game show last Friday before Round 2 kicked off. They got all four head coaches on there, and handled it like the pros they are! Those two will be involved with the Canalta Cup Final as well on SaskTel’s MaxTV, so make sure you tune in for that. I’ve said it many times on here and elsewhere: the league is making really good decisions moving forward, trying things that not even the Major Junior leagues are, and hiring good people! Have to give commissioner Bill Chow and his senior lieutenant Logan Fraser the credit for that!
6. Humboldt Makes A Great Move – The Broncos ended March by removing the interim tag on head coach and general manager Scott Barney’s title, while handing him a new three-year contract. It’s a great call, as Scott did an excellent job, first off by hiring former Ontario Hockey League and Hockey Canada coach Troy Smith as an assistant, and by bringing together the talented, though to that point enigmatic, group of Humboldt players. The Broncos had lost nine of 11 games in the regular season between Nov. 23 and Jan. 2, and clearly something needed to change. Bringing in the tandem of Barney and Smith led to the club going 14-6 the rest of the way, and they had a real shot at the Global Ag. Risk Solutions Division title. I saw Humboldt in the new year many times where they were certainly back to being a very cohesive group, and while the players themselves deserve most of the credit, Scott and Troy deserve plenty as well. Good job by Humboldt to reward good work!
7. No Breaking The Bruins – Game 3 in Estevan was such an impressive performance by the Bruins, top to bottom. They shut down Ball-Albrecht-Zentner pretty completely, Grant Boldt was very good in net when called upon, and they gave the Melfort power play juggernaut, with Kayle Tosh – the league’s best power-play quarterback – only two kicks at the can. That type of discipline is required against this Mustangs crew, and that’s two wins in a row for the Bruins in which Tristyn DeRoose notched the game-winner. This Estevan team has immense heart, and only had a few moments in Melfort in Games 1 and 2 in which they were truly outplayed, despite the fact they lost those contests 6-2 and 3-1, respectively. My Estevan ex-factor? Eddie Gallagher. That kid is going to be special real soon, and the late 2000-born winger is starting to contribute regularly now.
8. Kudos to Minot State – No fewer than seven Saskatchewan-natives, and a bevy of SJHL alumni, were part of the Minot State University Beavers team that defeated Iowa State University to take the ACHA (Club Hockey) Division I title this past week in Frisco, Texas. Former Melville Millionaire Josh Bykowski was a rock in net, posting a ludicrous 1.21 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage over 18 regular and post-season games for the North Dakota-based outfit. Shain Scheschuk, the Wadena, SK native, a former Weyburn Red Wing and the older brother of current Wings’ defender Carson, was second in team scoring and PIMs!
9. Rewind To Game 7 Nipawin-Yorkton – Spoke to Yorkton head coach and general manager Matt Hehr this past week, and talked about the Terriers’ dramatic Game 7 win in Nipawin. Specifically, with 1:09 to go in the game and Yorkton already on the penalty kill up 4-3, Terriers’ captain Brendan Mark was given a Delay of Game call for intentionally knocking the net off its moorings. It put his club down six-on-three after the Hawks pulled their goaltender after a timeout. I could feel the pride through the phone in Hehr’s voice (you can hear it on the official SJHL podcast athttps://soundcloud.com/user-794154315/episode-007-matt-hehr) as his club, and specifically Dino Antoniadis, Cody Dubas, and Ryan Ouellette, threw everything they could at the puck, to hold on for the win. You cannot script this stuff folks!
10. Hounds Midgets Win Sask (Again) – With a 4-1 win by the Notre Dame Midget AAAs over the Saskatoon Blazers in Wilcox last Friday, the Hounds have now won two straight, three of the last four, and seven of the last 14 Saskatchewan provincial titles. This team was not expected to go this far, lurking for the first half of the year in the shadow of last year’s stacked Telus Cup championship squad. But huge credit to head coach Devan Praught, the only four returnees, and the rest, for coming together and finding a way past three excellent clubs in the playoffs. The biggest winner from the finals series has to be goaltender Thomas Wardle, who was sensational throughout, and I hear has been only recently listed by the Portland Winterhawks. A few teams were interested in the West Vancouver, BC native before the post-season, but I’m sure the line to talk to him now is even longer. They will now head on to the Telus West Regional starting Thursday in Tisdale, where they will take on the Manitoba champs from Brandon, the Northern Ontario champions from Thunder Bay (also the Telus hosts), and the host Trojans.
(Follow Jamie on Twitter at @neugsie)