At this point of the season, every game a team plays is its biggest of the season.  Even more so when said team is locked in an epic struggle for playoff positioning.  That said, I mean it when I say this could be the biggest game of the season for the Ice Wolves... until tomorrow... and then Saturday... Seriously, the Ice Wolves and Nipawin Hawks are all but deadlocked for third place right now.  The Hawks hold a two point edge, but have played one more game.  It would be nice if they were on even terms in that regard, but alas, the schedule didn't cooperate.  

So why is league game number 299 so important for the Ice Wolves?  

That's what I'm here for.

It was a big past few days for the SJHL.  First the announcement of the 10-year deal with Canalta Hotels to be a major league sponsor, and yesterday the announcement of a whole bunch of changes coming next season.  

Here are the bare bones:

-League will reduce the 20-year old cap to eight next season and seven in 2013-14.

-Season Schedule drops from 58 to 54 games.  Apparently the shift involves moving divisional games up to eight across the board, and dropping the number of inter-divisional games to two.  Mostly weekend games.

-Season starts later.  This was already partially announced, but we know training camps will start September 5th, 2012.

Other announcements:

-League signed a new three year deal with Sherwood to be the equipment supplier.  Option for a fourth year.

-Melfort Mustangs will host the SJHL Showcase over the December 14th weekend.

-The Estevan Bruins will host the Hall of Fame Game next season.

Keep reading to get my thoughts on the changes.

Despite a strong start from the Melfort Mustangs, the Ice Wolves worked up a 3-0 lead in the first period and cruised on from there to an 8-3 win over the 'Stangs Saturday night.

It was a big win as the Nipawin Hawks picked up a 5-4 overtime win in Weyburn, so both teams remain tied in the points column coming into their clash on Tuesday.

Aaron Enns, Wilson Dumais and Nathan Boyer each had two goals for the Ice Wolves.  Both of Enns' markers came on the powerplay on a pair of snipes from the faceoff circle.  Boyer's first of the evening came off one of the nicest goals of the season.
Brodie Eisbrenner had a solid night stepping onto the Billet Line in place of Graham Smerek who was held out of the lineup with a nagging upper body injury.  Eisbrenner had a goal and two assists one game after he was a healthy scratch.  In all, eight Ice Wolves had multi-point nights including five with three point nights.

Brandon Sloan had a good game for the Mustangs and was dangerous as always.  He had a goal and an assist when Melfort struck twice in quick succession in the second period.  Brendan Tash had a pair of helpers as well.

The Mustangs goalies had a rough ride in the first and second periods.  After goal number three, which was a complete fluke, Patrick Johnson got the hook in favour of Jesse Wilkins.  Wilkins held the line the rest of the period, but was lit up for four goals in the early stages of the second period.  Coach Gavin Holcomb swapped Wilkins out, going back to Johnson who slammed the door shut until Aaron Enns scored on an Ice Wolves 5 on 3 advantage late in the third.  Johnson finished with 37 saves on 41 shots.

After the game Enns spoke about his team's effort. 
The La Ronge and Nipawin victories set up a clash for third place coming up on Tuesday at the Cage.  The Wolves lost their previous visits to Nipawin, one in the shootout and another lost late in the game.  It's a huge contest for the Ice Wolves who really need to get some momentum going on the road.  They only have three victories over Bauer Conference teams away from the Mel, and a pair of wins over the Hawks and 'Stangs this coming week could be just what the Wolves need to get on a real roll.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

The Ice Wolves only play one game this week, and the Melfort Mustangs drew the straw to make the trek up to visit the Mel Heglund Uniplex.  It's the third time this season the teams come together, and the Ice Wolves have won all three, looking solid defensively in the process.

The Wolves have one shutout against Melfort, a game that was a goosegg until the last four seconds and in the latest meeting a goal midway through the third got the Mustangs on the board.  It has been a tough season offensively for Melfort, but the Ice Wolves have taken that to another level in their meetings.

Despite their struggles, the Mustangs can claim something nobody else in the SJHL did.  That was end the Humboldt Broncos' ridiculous winning streak.  They slew the dragon and it's all but over for the RBC Hosts.  Needless to say the Mustangs got a big boost in a season that hasn't had a whole ton of bright points.  They're in action with Melville tonight (Friday) and it will be interesting to see if the momentum carries.  If it does, and they can grab a win against the Mills, the Wolves may have their hands full.

A recent poll done by Ipsos Reid shows 46% of Saskatchewan residents feel their local hockey rinks/arenas are in need of repairs with bleachers being one of the main concerns.  With numbers like that, you would think communities would jump on the chance to win $100,000 dollars and runner up sums of $25,000.  

The winning community also hosts an NHL pre-season game and Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.  However, a quick scan of CBC and Kraft's Hockeyville competition website shows only ten communities have completed entries, with sixteen still awaiting completion.  It doesn't take a big effort to include your town, I got La Ronge's Mel Heglund Uniplex entered in about 15 minutes.  All you have to do is upload a picture and write a quick story.

Clearly, to win it takes considerably more work.  With time winding down until the deadline for entries communities who don't have a head start will be hard pressed to succeed, but it's far from impossible.  Some creativity over the weekend can go a long way in helping a community on to the next stage.  Phoenix Coyotes Captain Shane Doan is the 2012 NHL Ambassador for the competition.  He feels it should be a no brainer for communities to get in on the action.  "As a community, the prize is so much and the application is so simple," says Doan, "It's such an opportunity to just get the chance to really improve the centre of your town, of your community, of your city and your area."

Doan took the time Thursday to talk about the importance of Minor hockey in his life and what the money from an application could go towards.   

What's in a Name?


600,000 dollars apparently...

From the SJHL Website:
Introducing the Canalta Cup:

SJHL President Bill Chow is proud to announce a new 10 year partnership with Canalta Hotels. The agreement includes renaming the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Championship Trophy to the Canalta Cup.

This landmark agreement between Canalta and the SJHL will also see the hotel chain contribute more than $600,000 in partnership revenue to the League over the next 10 years.

“Canalta’s partnership with the SJHL shows their commitment to supporting long-standing Saskatchewan traditions,” said Bill Chow, SJHL President. “We are excited to have them join our SJHL corporate family.”

Canalta Hotels, established in 1979, currently has six hotels in five Saskatchewan markets, Weyburn, Moosomin, Tisdale, Humboldt and Melfort. The family owned business is also in the construction phase of properties in Esterhazy and Shaunavon. 

“It is an honour to have our company name on one of the most respected and cherished championship trophies in hockey,” said Gary Hoffert, Regional Vice President of Canalta Hotels. “This unique agreement helps promote our hotel properties in the Saskatchewan marketplace.”

The battle for the Canalta Cup will begin when the SJHL playoffs start at the end of February. 

So how does this affect the SJHL?  Well, I'm actually not too sure.  It will be interesting to see where the $60k per year goes.  In any case, it's a decent sized sponsorship and a new one for the league at that.  Attracting new sponsors will be key for the league as operating costs continue to rise.

If this sponsorship means we'll be staying at more Canalta hotels on the road, I won't argue.  Pretty nice rooms, which makes sense considering most of the places are pretty new.  There's your sponsorship dollars at work Canalta.  I'll try and get a hold of Bill Chow  and maybe have something to add later today.

The Ice Wolves entered into their home-and-home set with Flin Flon needing at least two points and four wasn't far behind in the  
"must have" category.  It was a weekend of hard fought and close games, but the Ice Wolves came up with 4 of the 5 points on the weekend and jumped into third place.  The two wins also guaranteed the Ice Wolves the season series against the Bombers (5-2-0-0).

While Friday's game was tight checking, clean and a very organized hockey game, Saturday's took on a bit of a different ilk.  With some of the bad blood building in the season series, it started boiling over leading to an interesting game.  There was a little bit of everything, and though it was one of the more entertaining games at the Mel this season, it probably had the coaches watching through their fingers wondering what was going to happen next.

Never let it be said the Ice Wolves and Bombers aren’t worth the price of admission.  On the worst nights of this Northern Rivalry, say a blowout, there are all sorts of things going on.  Whether it’s some great scoring or extracurricular activity, there’s always something to keep the fans into it.  When it's a close game, you're in for a heck of a matchup.

Friday’s game was a classic.  

The Ice Wolves have been in a bit of a rough state since returning from the Christmas Break.  It started out brilliantly with a combined 18-2 win over Flin Flon and Melfort, but since then, the Wolves have a 1-4-0-0 record and have been outscored 25-10 over that stretch.  Six of the Ice Wolves' goals came in a 6-4 win over Estevan.  The Wolves are 4-4-0-2 in their last ten games and have fallen into fifth place in the Bauer Conference.

The Ice Wolves have been fighting through the last stretch admirably.  Against Weyburn, they gutted out a strong effort down 4 skaters in their third game in as many nights.  They had a real shot at taking one on the road in North Battleford, but came up just short and not for a lack of effort.  We'll just not talk about the ND and Humboldt games, they've already been well documented.

Whatever isn't working for the Ice Wolves right now needs to turn around in a hurry because the race for third is one team more crowded with those Nipawin Hawks back in the mix.  What better place to get some momentum than the Whitney Forum?

The Ice Wolves came into the Battlefords with a couple of scenarios available.  Win, and take over third place.  Lose, remain in fourth or the rather unpleasant lose and fall into fifth.  With a 4-1 loss to the North Stars and a 4-2 Nipawin victory, the worst-case came to pass… a rather unappealing end to a night that had some definite promise.

Now, don’t panic, the Wolves aren’t stuck in fifth.  It’s not the last day of the season.  There are still plenty of games to go with pretty much an infinite combination of scenarios yet to play out, including this weekend’s home and home with Flin Flon.  However, it was a disheartening night that once again started with the Ice Wolves getting on the board first.