It has been a pretty quiet week for me on the blog front.  After the Wolves fell to the North Stars 2-0, I took a little break on the weekend and figured we'd puzzled over the Ice Wolves road trip enough.  Naturally I'll puzzle over it some more in this post, but it was nice to take a quick break.

A couple of house-keeping notes before I talk about the Ice Wolves and Terriers game tonight.  The 2011-12 Broadcast Interviews and 
2011-12 Feature Interviews pages are up and running in the Audio on Demand page.  So if you missed an interview you wanted to hear in a broadcast, chances are good it will be in that section unless it's a live interview.  I changed up the format this season to make it a little easier to tell each game apart.

Second item is the podcast.  I've stressed I want to try and keep it fairly regular, but right now that isn't really how it's going.  I apologize for that and hopefully I can get it running with some kind of normalcy in the near future.  I will likely be shifting its release date to later in the week so I can avoid running into road trip issues and the like.

With that out of the way, lets talk about the Ice Wolves and Terriers shall we?  The Ice Wolves main deal, as has come up in ... oh in the last three or four posts, is goal scoring.  Seven in six games isn't going to cut it in the SJHL, especially when Calder Neufeld has that many goals for Estevan in two less games.  So Ice Wolves fans hope the team's annual fishing trip and a weeks worth of practice will solve some of the Wolves' goal scoring woes.

 
 
A quick hit this afternoon to get you ready for the Ice Wolves and North Stars game tonight.  The obvious storyline coming in is La Ronge’s lack of tallies in the ‘G’ column.  There are some offensively talented players on the Wolves’ roster, but they’re finding every possible way to not score.  Posts, goal line rollers, legs getting in the way in the last second, goals called back… you get the idea.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team hit such a string of bad luck.

Before you click away shaking your head, the early season woes of the Ice Wolves obviously run deeper than a string of tough bounces.  After three road games at a combined 17-3, they would have to.  A lot of the offensive impotence seems to be stemming from the breakout, which Bob Beatty addressed in his pre-game interview before the Klippers game.  The Wolves give a lot of pucks away around the centre line and it’s preventing them from building any momentum.  Worse still, it generally turns into an opposing rush.

Most of these issues will likely begin to sort themselves out over the next week or two as the Wolves breaks down what needs to change and apply it in practice.  That’s the advantage of losing like the Wolves have, there is a lot of video evidence of what needs to be fixed.

The North Stars come into this contest having won their past two games.  Kevin Hasselberg’s crew dropped their home opener to Kindersley, but bounced back quite nicely with wins over the Klippers and Mustangs.  Braeden Johnson has provided some of the point production Stars fans were expecting with three points in his first three games.  Johnson along with Blake Tatchell and Brett Miller could provide some serious offence for the Stars, and you can probably throw Kyle Hall into that mix as well.

Of course, offence wasn’t exactly an issue for North Battleford last season, it was definitely their defence.  They scored the third most goals in the SJHL last season, but got lit up themselves allowing 256 goals, 22 more than they scored.  So it will be interesting to see how their defence has come along over the off season and if they can keep the puck out of their own net.

Player to Watch

La Ronge

Jhoney Cormier (F) – Seemed like he was on the verge of getting the Ice Wolves some points in Kindersley.  This game could be the one where he breaks out.

North Battleford

Brody Luhning (D) – He scored 12 goals for the Stars last season as a part of a 33 point showing.  He spent training camp and the pre-season in the WHL with the Regina Pats and was one of the last players reassigned.  Tonight should be his first game and he’ll be looking to prove himself.

--

I’ll have the call of the final game of this very tough stretch of six games in eight days from the Civic Centre with my colour man Trent Cey of the Battlefords News Optimist.  Pre-Game is, as usual, at 7:15 with the puck hitting the ice at 7:30.

-D
 
 
It was a pretty quiet ride back to North Battleford after the Ice Wolves fell to their second 7-1 decision in as many games.  This one came at the hands of the Kindersley Klippers in what was a reasonably close game through forty minutes.

Though the Klippers held a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, the Wolves had a bunch of chances early on that would have likely led to a happier result at the WCEC.  As the Wolves luck has run this season, though, it wasn’t the case.  Two shots dead off the post, another that got behind Kindersley netminder, Justin McDonald and trickled just wide, this was a game the Ice Wolves had a very real opportunity to win.

In the final twenty minutes, the Klippers took care of a very graphic dismemberment of any comeback hopes.  Two goals within 56 seconds early in the third put the game away and two more later on, only added to the debacle.  It also ran the Ice Wolves goal differential to a dismal minus fourteen on their current road trip.  That’s 17 goals against versus 3 goals for.
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Ice Wolves called on the offside
 
 
Tonight the Ice Wolves take on their first Sherwood Conference opponent, and just like last season, it's the Kindersley Klippers.

The Wolves won all four meetings with Kindersley, which were all taken care of in the first twenty or so games of the season.  So that was before the Klippers went on that crazy roll after Rockie Zinger took over as head coach.  

The off-season was a busy one for Zinger as he had a lot of players moving though his roster.  One of the big trades was Sean Flanagan asking for a trade out of Kindersley, citing the pressure of playing in his hometown.  Flanagan  would have been an early candidate for defenceman of the year had he stuck around, so on a team that doesn't feature a ton of returning defenders, he would have been a key cog.  That deal set in motion a cascade of deals that instead of outlining here, I'll get Coach Zinger to speak about during the Pre-Game show.

The Klippers are missing quite a few of the faces that made them such an offensive threat last season.  That said, there are still some guys who can put the puck in the net like Taylor Duzan and Wheaton King, fresh off of his WHL tryout.  They're a team that has a little less to figure out role-wise than the Ice Wolves, but still trying to find their way early in the season.  Kindersley comes into the contest 1-and-2 on the season and having lost their past two games.

 
 
Before the game, the Ice Wolves were excited to get their first crack at the Humboldt Broncos.  As the RBC Cup hosts, Humboldt is a team built to win a National Championship and take the Credit Union Cup along the way.  Naturally, they have a target on their backs as every team in the SJHL wants to prove themselves early on.

After 60 minutes were done, the Wolves were none too excited and it was a very quiet evening after a 7-1 loss to the Broncos in which the Ice Wolves were dominated in pretty much every aspect of the game.

Make no mistake, this Broncos team is very good.  People are wondering about their goaltending situation, but Matt Hrynkiw hasn't seen too many shots come his way in two games of action and even then has looked very solid.  I could go on for a while on how good the Broncos looked last night, but this isn't really a Humboldt blog, so I'll keep it brief.

The team is very fast.  They made the Ice Wolves look sluggish and a step or two behind the Broncos, especially in the first period.  La Ronge seemed to catch up in the second, but Humboldt showed the ability to create scoring opportunities quick off the rush and cash in on them.

The Ice Wolves floundered when trying to build offence, but a lot of it seemed to be the fact that La Ronge couldn't get on the same page.  The Humboldt defence looked strong, but there were a lot of passes to nowhere coming off of Ice Wolves sticks.  Passes coming into the skates, behind players, too far ahead... you name it.  The Wolves definitely had trouble connecting last night and that could have been the Broncos forcing the issue, but it's something the Pack has struggled with early in the season.

The second period held the best moments for the Wolves when a team appeared that could compete with the Broncos.  That's when the Wolves got physical and really started to build some momentum.  When the Ice Wolves started crashing around the ice and banging bodies, they became effective and it was like someone flicked a switch.  They just couldn't sustain it for very long.

It was a bad game for the Ice Wolves.  So are they going to get wiped by the Broncos every meeting?  Certainly not.  Like I said after the Nipawin game, and at times during last night's broadcast, the Wolves are still trying to figure themselves and their linemates out.  Once they get gelling, I think you'll see a squad that can sandpaper wins out of more skilled outfits like the Broncos.

The question remains how long will it take for them to get to that point?  Kindersley and North Battleford will be some important games on this road trip as the Wolves try to get back to .500.

Of note from last night, Jared Iron picked up the first goal of his SJHL career.  Good to see him take care of that milestone in only his second game.

The Wolves are about to hit the ice for their practice, so we'll see how Bob Beatty skates them today.  I'm thinking it will be a... vigorous practice.

-D 


EDIT:  Assistant Coach Ron Holloway took care of practice today, and it was indeed pretty vigorous.  Here's a few of the guys going for a few laps.  Each line did about five, I believe.
 
 
This was more of the game I was expecting for the Ice Wolves home opener on Friday.  Very close game, tight checking, not a ton of scoring.  I won't be surprised if the Wolves and Hawks play a few of these games this season, the teams are well matched.

Every game I've seen the Wolves in the regular season, they've improved considerably.  It makes sense when you consider the fact that the Ice Wolves only played two pre-season games compared to other teams four or five.  The Wolves are a few games behind the rest of the league in that respect and they're fighting the catch up.  The D-Zone is becoming a much more unfriendly locale for the Wolves opposition and that's good to see.

The penalty kill looked fantastic tonight, killing off all seven Nipawin opportunities, including two 5-on-3 chances.  I don't think I've ever said this before, but I actually had fun watching the Wolves work 5-on-3.  The unit was very aggressive and made it no easy task for the Hawks attackers to enter the zone.  Whether this will be the strategy every time out or not, I can't say, but it was fun to see tonight.

The powerplay wasn't bad, but it didn't score in a similar seven opportunities including a 5-on-3.  The final two advantages the Wolves had were by far their best when they got a slew of good chances, but just couldn't find the back of the net, which was the issue tonight.
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Well isn't this nice?  An blowout affair filled with bad blood and mayhem on Friday, and round two already!

Yes, the Ice Wolves and Hawks, apparently the nastiest rivalry in the SJHL through two games gets its second go 'round tonight at the Cage.  Fans in Nipawin, I wouldn't expect the yard sale we saw in La Ronge.  That was a sort of one off where the game situation and climate were just right.  The conditions likely won't be met for another explosion, but who knows?  Bob Beatty said in his pre-game interview on Saturday that he wasn't unhappy with how things went in that second period fracas.  He felt the Ice Wolves were justified in their retaliation that was quickly retaliated by the Hawks, which was retaliated by the Wolves... you get the picture.  It's one of the obvious story lines in this game, something I'll talk with both coaches about in the pre-game show, but I doubt we'll see anything come of it.

I expect we'll see the game I thought would go down at the Mel on Friday, which will be a considerably closer affair.  I know a lot of people were surprised to see Nipawin beat La Ronge, but these are very different teams from last season.  I was, however, surprised at the margin of victory for Nipawin.  The Ice Wolves will likely take the identity of a tight checking, defence first team, and they looked anything but on Friday.  The Hawks looked every bit the youthful speed and offence team they're billed as and because of that we had our stretched score.  If La Ronge plays more like it did in Melfort, I think we'll see a much closer score.

The big news for the Ice Wolves in the past day or two is the reassignment of Jared Iron ('94) to the club.  If you remember, he was one of the players I was keeping a close eye on at Kootenay Ice training camp.  He played well in Kootenay, but was a victim of some younger players having ridiculously good camps.  Kootenay's loss is the Ice Wolves gain as Iron is a player who has a nose for the net.  He had 48 points (28 G - 20 A) in Midget AAA last season and has enormous potential.  I wouldn't be surprised to see him follow a similar path to Rhyse Dieno, spending the season with the Ice Wolves and making his way onto a WHL roster next season.  Speaking of which, congratulations to Rhyse who, at least for the time being, seems to have caught on with the Medicine Hat Tigers.  A bunch of goals in the pre-season will do that for you.  Hopefully he can keep it up.

I don't know if Iron will be in the lineup in Nipawin, I would imagine he'll join the club on the road sometime this week.


It may be game three for these teams, but I think it's an important one for the psyche of the Wolves and maybe to a lesser extent, the Hawks.  If the Wolves can put out a better showing and take a win out of the Cage, then I think you'll see them have a very strong road trip.  If they fall in similar fashion, there could be some serious early season frustration setting in, and that's never a good thing.  For the Hawks, if they come out expecting to blow out La Ronge, they could end up being sorely disappointed.  They need to come out with all the guns blazing like they did on Friday.

Players to Watch

La Ronge:

Marc-Andre Carre (F) - Though he's shown his usual flair for guiding the puck through defenders, Carre has been guilty of maybe trying to do too much.  If he can use his linemates more, he'll be truly effective.

David Greyeyes (D) - The Ice Wolves offensive leader through two games.  Greyeyes is showing every bit of skill the Wolves were looking for as the quarterback of their powerplay.  If the Wolves can get a little more traffic in front, Greyeyes could put up serious numbers.

Nipawin:

Tyler Paslawski (F) - The early points leader in the SJHL with seven points in his first two games.  Playing with Adam Reichert and Tad Kozun, Paslawski has a start every player envies.  His linemates are doing okay too as Kozun has six points and Reichert has four.

Nipawin's Goalie... - I don't know who that will be as of yet.  Davis Jones picked up the first couple of starts, so we may see Stephen Klein tonight.  Jones had some tense moments in La Ronge, but apparently rebounded nicely in Flin Flon.  Either goalie is a pretty good choice between the pipes.

Well, time for me to hit the road, so I bid you adieu!  I'll have the pre-game show at 7:15 and puck drop at 7:30.  Lorne Hill joins me on colour commentary and who knows what we'll end up talking about?

Enjoy the game!

-D
 
 
This weekend was a tale of two different Ice Wolves teams.  One lost handily on home ice to start the season, and one bounced back to take a solid win on the road.

Unfortunately for the fans in La Ronge, the Nipawin Hawks rolled in with something to prove.  This season is all about developing a culture of winning in Nipawin and a new attitude with the Hawks.  They took that run and gun attitude and took it to the Wolves up and down the ice.

The Wolves just didn’t seem ready for the Hawks to play like they did.  From puck drop, La Ronge was disorganized in its own end, leaving goalie, Alex Rajotte, in some very tough positions.  Despite this, he performed reasonably well despite allowing seven goals in the loss.

The offence was in better shape than the defence, but finish was an issue as concern grows that it may be that way for the foreseeable future.  One post and two goal line rollers were all that stood between the Ice Wolves and possibly a different outcome, or at least a more favourable score.

They melee that went down in the second period was, interesting to say the least.  After Marc-Andre Carre slid into Davis Jones on a rush, he took a shot from one of the Hawks and that was it.  Gloves were flying fists were everywhere and the officials were overmatched.  Even Carre got in on the action which was a dangerous choice considering his short time in La Ronge and training camp with Rio Grande on the horizon.  It was good to see everyone sticking up for each other, though I feel some players went overboard in their zeal.  I’ll use that as the ‘political’ phrasing and leave it at that.  Regardless, it lit a fire in the Ice Wolves and they almost got back in the game after that point.

The Hawks survived the push, it helps when there’s already a four goal lead on the board.  Then they locked it down and tossed a couple daggers into the Wolves comeback hopes to wrap it up.  Nipawin didn’t play a perfect game, but for a season opener on the road, it may as well have been.  The defence turned over too many pucks to the wrong players, which led to the Ice Wolves second goal, and Davis Jones was somewhat shaky in net.  However, Jones also showed flashes of brilliance making some flashy saves.

We’ll see how the season progresses for the Hawks and if this team is for real.  Last night they rolled by Flin Flon, so the early outlook is pretty positive for Nipawin.

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Gavin Holcomb on the Mustangs Bench
With such a heavy handed loss in their rearview mirror, the Ice Wolves needed a solid showing in Melfort.  That’s exactly what they brought.  It wasn’t dazzling, but the 2-0 win got the job done and showed heavy improvement in the defensive zone.

From the outset, the Ice Wolves seemed a much more determined and focused team, supplying early pressure.  This resulted in a powerplay, giving David Greyeyes the chance to shine once again.  He was very good in the home opener, and tonight was no different as he picked up the game winner with a blast from the top of the faceoff circle.
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Alex Rajotte keeps a wary eye on the play
That would be all the offence the Ice Wolves would need with Alex Rajotte bouncing back to the fullest.  A 28 save shutout is just the thing to help a goalie forget about a rough outing and the confidence from that going forward will be huge.  Rajotte was one of the key difference makers for the Ice Wolves tonight with some fantastic saves and some very strong situational play with the puck.

The Mustangs were a little starved for offence in the game, especially with Brendan Tash out of the lineup.  Landon Belchamber was strong for Melfort, bringing some offensive creativity as well as Tyler Fauchoux.  When those two hit their stride, the Mustangs and their fans will be enjoying decent production from those players.
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Scott Helmkay tries commentary

No doubt Bob Beatty would much rather have come out of opening weekend 2-0 with at least a share of first place, but I think he’ll be pleased to be an even 1-1.  Especially after Friday’s loss.  

Now the Wolves get to prepare for the Hawks knowing a little more of what to expect as they head to the Cage on Tuesday to kick off a four game road trip.



The team chemistry looked stronger against the Mustangs, and as Coach Beatty said in his pre-game interview tonight, it’s going to be an ongoing process getting this team to where it should be.

Three Stars:

1. Alex Rajotte (G) - LAR - 28 Svs/SO
2. David Greyeyes (D) - LAR - GWG
3. Jesse Ehnisz (G) - MELF - 31/32 Svs

I’ll have the broadcast from Nipawin on Tuesday starting off with the CanAqua Pre Game show at 7:15 and puck drop at 7:30.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

-D

 
 
Finally the day is upon us.  The days column in my countdown clock has hit zeroes and one by one, all of the others will join before we drop the puck on a new season of Ice Wolves hockey.

It's tough to write a preview when you don't know about how either team is really going to break down this season.  If you want a preview on the Wolves, just check out the 'Pre Season' category on the side bar and you'll be good to go.  Even with all of that, it's tough to say what happens when the puck drops tonight.

The Hawks feature a young lineup once again this season after making some trades that sent some of their projected veteran leaders to other locales.  Make no mistake, this is a young roster with a ton of talent.  Three of the new faces with the squad were top scorers in the Midget AAA league last season in Tad Kozun, Alex Laird and Dustin Skilleter.  The Rookie of the Year could be a Nipawin Hawk for the second season in a row.

The Hawks defence is going to be tough for the Ice Wolves more physical players to muscle off the puck.  With an average height right around six feet, Nipawin definitely added some size on the back end.  I spoke with Ice Wolves Coach Bob Beatty and he mentioned the Hawks defence as one of their most improved areas over the off season.

In net, the Hawks look to be sitting pretty.  They traded away Brody Hoffman to deal with a backlog in that position, and will go with Stephen Klein ('93) and David Jones ('92) between the pipes.  Klein got a lot of time in net as a young goalie last season, playing in 26 games as a 17-year old and has a late birthday so was actually 16 at the beginning of last season.  Klein looked fantastic at times last year and not so fantastic at times, as the growing pains continued for the Hawks.  He wrapped up the season with a 4-15-0 record to go with a 
4.84 GAA and 0.862 Sv%.  It will be interesting to see who picks up the start for Doug Johnson's crew.

In net for the home side will be Alex Rajotte ('91) getting his first regular season action in an Ice Wolves uniform.  Though many would expect Myles Hovdebo ('92) to get the start tonight, he's nursing an injury at the moment and with how well Rajotte played in the Pre-Season, Coach Beatty sees no reason to push Hovdebo when he has an experienced goaltender ready to go.

Another game story heading into this home opener for La Ronge, is of course Marc Andre-Carre.  Rumour's heading into the matchup are that he'll line up alongside Nathan Boyer and Skyler Hladun, which could be a flat out deadly line.  Putting together the skills of Carre and Boyer to go with Hladun's size seems like a natural fit.  

One of the main reasons I'm excited to see this game, is to finally see how all the lines and defensive pairings break down for La Ronge.  It's been a long (but shorter than others) off-season, but it's finally go time.

I'll be a part of CJVR's Nipawin Hawks broadcast tonight as we don't quite have the webcasting ready to go for tonight.  I'm also doing the team introduction at the beginning.  It's been a while since I've done stadium announcing so it should be fun.  I'll have to apologize to CJVR listeners for not having a voice for the first period.

Enjoy the game!

-D
 
 
This is the final edition of the 'Great Expectations' series.  So far I've looked at Aaron Enns as he heads into his final season of Junior-A hockey, Nathan Boyer as he looks to become a large part of the Ice Wolves offence, and Graham Smerek as he takes on larger responsibilities both offensively and in his own end.

I finish up with a player who enjoyed a break out playoffs, especially against the Melfort Mustangs in the Bauer Conference Finals and finished with seven goals in 17 playoff games.  He's also one of the largest players on the ice for the Wolves and could grow into one of the top power forwards in the league.

Read on as I break down the forecast on Skyler Hladun.