The Ice Wolves accomplished the task set out before them in Flin Flon Monday night.  They went in looking to get out of the Survivor Series in three games and avoid giving any momentum back to the Bombers on home ice.  A solid 3-1 victory got the job done and the Wolves ousted their Northern rivals from the post season for the third straight year.

It was a pretty convincing victory despite how close the score was.  The Wolves really controlled the play to start the game and it was key in the victory.  Byron Sorenson got the Wolves an early lead and things looked pretty good.  The Ice Wolves kept pressing their advantage, but a couple Bomber powerplays turned things around for the home side.  Despite looking a little uncomfortable between the pipes, Alex Rajotte held the Bombers off the scoresheet with some help from his defence.

The second period had the Bombers playing with more jump to start the frame than the first, but the Wolves weathered the storm and pressed back the other way.  The penalty kill was called upon frequently and did a fantastic job of shutting down the Bombers.  Towards the end of the period, the Ice Wolves took another penalty and something interesting would happen.  Alex Vandenameele took a boarding penalty with 1:36 remaining in the second.  The Wolves got to the break still leading 1-0, the game clock showed 23 seconds remaining on the PK.  The penalty was run down over the intermission so the score clock could time the break.  When the teams came back, though, 36 seconds went up for the remaining time on the penalty kill.  Oops.  So the Bombers had an extra 13 seconds to work with on the man advantage, but it was the Ice Wolves who would benefit.  Nathan Boyer stole the puck and at the Wolves blue-line and raced in alone on Devin Buffalo.  The Bomber goalie stopped Boyer's first chance, but Boyer buried the rebound to give the Ice Wolves the 2-0 lead.  If that timing mistake isn't there, we can be reasonably (not 100%) certain Boyer doesn't score at that point.  Both teams would have been in different set ups with the penalty having closed off ten seconds ago.  What looked like a bad break for La Ronge, turned around on the Bombers.

Flin Flon, knowing the season was in jeopardy, turned up the heat.  The physical game ramped up and you could sense the desperation.  The Bombers just couldn't seem to gain any purchase, though, and Aaron Enns iced the game with an empty netter in the final couple minutes.  Riley Storzuk gave Bomber fans something to cheer about, breaking the Alex Rajotte shutout bid with 16 seconds left in the contest.   

The Ice Wolves never trailed on the scoreboard in the series as they move on to face the Humboldt Broncos and will try to upset the third ranked team in the country.  The Wolves are no stranger to upsetting the first place team coming out of the survivor series.  They accomplished that exact feat two years ago when they came out of the Survivor Series (against Humboldt) and beat the Bombers who were in first.  Two players still remain from that team in Carre and Enns while Hladun and Boyer were around the team as AP's.

The Conference Semi-Finals get going for all four series' Friday night.  Both Friday and Saturday's game will be broadcast on MBC as the Ice Wolves look to win their first game of the season against Humboldt.  The Wolves need to win at least one game at the Elgar Peterson Arena to complete the upset and their best chance may be Game 1 with the Broncos coming off a long layoff.

I'll have a series preview up ahead of Game 1.

-D
 
The Ice Wolves got off to a great start on home ice in the Survivor Series with a pair of wins on home ice to start out the playoffs.  Friday's contest started out fast and furious with the Wolves getting the better of the early action, but letting their foot off the gas nearly cost them as the Bombers pulled themselves back into the contest.  The Wolves collected themselves in time and took the 5-4 win, but it was clear what the Wolves needed to improve on.  To gain playoff success, the Wolves need to put the pedal down and finish games out.

Saturday's game started slow, but the Wolves made adjustments in the second period and again came out on the right side of a flurry of action.  A 4-1 lead after two periods quickly became 5-1 when Nathan Boyer scored his second of the game 20 seconds into the third.  The game quieted from there until the Wolves popped another two on the powerplay, late, when the Bombers got into penalty trouble.  A 7-1 beat down gave the Wolves their 2-0 lead in the series and showed they have the killer instinct to put teams away.

Also important for La Ronge, they were able to put some pucks behind Devin Buffalo in the third period.  After allowing the fifth goal Friday, Buffalo shut down the Wolves for the remainder of that game and when he stepped in for Andy Desautels in the second Buffalo was fantastic as well.  The third period marked a return to the norm for the Ice Wolves when they were able to get three by him at the Mel.  A confident Devin Buffalo would be bad news for the Wolves heading to the Whitney Forum.  Obviously the choice by Mike Reagan to put Desautels between the pipes for Game 2 will generate some discussion and I'll be sure to get his thoughts on the decision tonight in the pregame show.

 
It's finally that time of year again.  The time of year when glory and gut wrenching disappointment are separated by a razor thin line.  One goal/penalty/save can mean the difference between heading home in February or playing until May.

Ten teams will become eight, will become four, then two and finally one will remain... until it becomes two, then one, then five and so forth (man Junior A playoffs are complicated).  Today's focus is on the ten becoming eight bit, and more importantly the fourth and fifth place teams battling to be fourth and earn a date with the Humboldt Broncos.  I'm not a huge fan of the format, and I know any team that has ever finished fourth will agree, it's not much fun to play for spot you've already earned.  That said, the Survivor series generally presents some very intriguing and entertaining hockey.  Take last year's Bauer Conference victory by the Bombers, or the Bruins' dramatic OT win in game five over the Millionaires in the Sherwood series.

Combine the Survivor Series and the War in the North and you have the makings of a darn good series (not to mention something that sounds like a WWE pay-per-view).  Some may call it a "healthy dislike" (Bob Beatty) others, may comment that they've hated the Bombers since the first meeting of the season (Pavlo Zerebecky).  Any way you say it, the Wolves and Bombers have one of (if not the) nastiest rivalry in the league.  35 games including eleven playoff games in the last two years will do that to teams.

 
After hearing a new multiplex in La Ronge could be as near as five years away before construction began, I was a little surprised to find this statement on the introduction to a survey about such a facility on the Town of La Ronge website:

The life expectancy of Recreation & Leisure facilities are approximately 40-50 years. The Mel Hegland Uniplex was built in 1977 therefore the life expectancy is reaching its end. The Town of La Ronge will produce a feasibility study to build a New Multipurpose Recreation & Leisure facility in the Town of La Ronge. This will be a 10-20 year project; to begin we would like to poll our community members regarding a new facility such as this. Please let us know how your opinion.  

Ten to twenty years... not what many in La Ronge were hoping for.  For me, the rink (though a driving force for my interest) comes secondary to the theoretical walking track and swimming pool that would come along with a multiplex.  My personal opinion is the town is in dire need of the pool facility, closely followed by the indoor track.

So what's in the survey?

1. Age Group?
2. Rent/Own in which community?
3. Will you use a new facility?
4.  Will you help fund raise? (Also asks for contact info if yes)
5. Willing to allocate some of your taxes to new facility?
6. What percentage of that?
7.  Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: My taxing authority/municipality should raise property taxes to build a new Recreation & Leisure Multipurpose facility.
8. Are you willing to pay user fees?
9. What would you be willing to see in the facility?
Rate (1-low, 5-high) Swimming Pool, Rink (Hockey/Curling), track, fitness centre, conference centre, field house

The results will be posted in March.  The survey deadline is February 29th. You can take the survey at the town website: http://www.laronge.ca/index.php

Obviously the ten to twenty year timeline is the eye-popper of the whole thing.  I think most would agree that the Mel, despite being only thirty years old, is pretty much at the end of its life, not nearing.  It won't match the 40-50 year life expectancy because its construction wasn't meant to deal with the traffic and use that it sees.

I will be contacting the town to find out more about the project, which at the very least, seems to be taking steps forward (if a little slowly).  

UPDATE:

I spoke with Mayor Thomas Sierzycki this afternoon about the project and survey.  It was pretty positive as he mentioned the 10-20 year number is to stay away from overly ambitious goals.  They're definitely looking towards the lower end of that spectrum.  If things fall into place properly, I get the impression it can move quicker.

They are battling some issues including low census numbers that can delay the project.  You can listen to my full interview with Mayor Sierzycki Monday night when the Ice Wolves take on the Bombers in Game Three of the Survivor Series on MBC Radio.

So far there are only around 300 respondents to the survey, and the town is hoping for many more, so like commenter Northern Boy says, head over to the town site and take the survey.

-D
 
Facing off with the Melfort Mustangs on home ice right before the playoffs was seen as a chance for the Ice Wolves to build some momentum heading into their series with the Flin Flon Bombers.  The Wolves had outscored the Mustangs 18-4 on home ice entering the contest, so the optimism wasn't exactly unwarranted.  However, the Wolves couldn't find a way to beat Jesse Wilkins once and went on to lose 1-0 to the Mustangs.

The Wolves managed 43 shots on Wilkins, though the total wasn't necessarily indicative of how the game rolled along.  The Ice Wolves seemed to hop out of the gate strong in a period, then taper off, then pick it back up in the late stages.  When it was all said and done, the Wolves probably had less than 30 minutes of solid 'Ice Wolves Hockey'. Not the way this squad is going to win games.  The final stretch of games certainly wasn't a happy one for the Wolves.  They enter into the playoffs having won only three games in their last ten.  

The Wolves night started off pretty well with an early powerplay.  Unfortunately for La Ronge, Brendan Tash was hanging out behind the Ice Wolves defence, took a lob pass and snapped a wrister by Myles Hovdebo to give the Mustangs the lead on the shorthanded goal.  It was a tough goal to allow, but something the Ice Wolves could bounce back from.  Wilkins proved unbeatable, though, and the Wolves would head to the break down a goal.  

The second period followed a similar formula, but the Mustangs had a few great chances with the puck sitting right on the Ice Wolves goal line.  Hovdebo was able to hold the puck out, though, and the Wolves managed to get to the third just needing one goal to maybe break the flood gates open.

It never happened.  The Mustangs were just too solid defensively to overcome and Wilkins kept the door firmly shut.  La Ronge had plenty of opportunities, but nobody was able to put one behind Wilkins.  The Mustangs celebrated their thirteenth win of the season and wrapped up a disappointing year on a high note.  It will be interesting to see where the organization progresses from here.  They have a solid ground-work in place and look to be in a position to improve next season.

The Ice Wolves move on to the survivor series looking for a spark.  The team hasn't been playing its best hockey of late, but better to get that out of the way before hitting the playoffs.  They'll have a couple days of practice where they'll try and get back on track, then it's the playoff version of the War in the North.

There's a great preview of the series on SJHL.ca.  I'll have my own breakdown ahead of Game 1 at the Mel Friday.

It was a wild regular season, and it will only get crazier from here as the Wolves embark on their journey to capture a third straight SJHL Championship.

-D 
 
The Ice Wolves put forward a very strong effort Friday night.  They played a good enough game to win at the Whitney Forum, but the Hockey Gods weren't smiling on La Ronge this evening.

The Wolves jumped out to a lead courtesy of Wilson Dumais with a nice wrister from the slot.  They carried the play from there, coming up with chance after chance, only to be denied by Devin Buffalo.  The second period was very similar with Buffalo putting on a brilliant display for those assembled.  Alex Rajotte was in fine form as well, coming up with some very challenging saves to keep the Ice Wolves in the lead.

Finally in the third period, the Ice Wolves found a way by Buffalo when Aaron Enns ripped home his 23rd of the season off a one-time feed from Marc-Andre Carre.  The Ice Wolves relaxed at that point and it would cost them.  They didn't play poorly down the stretch, but didn't have the same urgency to their game.

 
The Ice Wolves make a trip over the cut-across to visit their Northern Nemesis, the Flin Flon Bombers tonight at the Whitney Forum.  The final instalment of the (regular season) War in the North has a fair bit on the line for the Ice Wolves while not as much immediate impact for the Bombers.

The Wolves, slim though their chances may be, still have a shot at third place if they can win their final two games.  They need some serious help from the Bombers and Mustangs, but there's hope.  The disappointing thing is the Ice Wolves, for a time this past week, held their own fate and couldn't convert.  The Wolves wanted to come away, and felt they had a legitimate shot of coming away with six of eight points, but only got three.  The Wolves entered the third period of each game with at least a chance to get a point or two.

Tonight they'll attempt to salvage five points out of the stretch of five on the road.

 
I'll start with the good, and that was the win against Melville Tuesday night.  The Wolves found themselves down on multiple occaisions, but found a way to battle back.

When they ran into penalty troubles late in the third period, they battled and were rewarded with a shorthanded goal to pick up the win.  It was a fast game and a blast to call.  I really liked Jared Iron's game Tuesday and Wednesday, it was good to see him successful in his return to the lineup.

Wednesday's game showed me two things about the Wolves.  One, they can run in a high scoring game with a high scoring team.  Two, when their backs are against the wall, they can deliver.  Two important traits to have when rolling into the playoffs.  The win provided a lot of optimisim, expecially in their drive to gain third place in the Bauer Conference.

The same can't be said for the game in Yorkton.  The Ice Wolves didn't play a poor game by any means, but it certainly wasn't a game that gave you the sense the Wolves were fighting tooth and nail for third place.  The road seemed to catch up with the Wolves who were playing their fourth in five nights.  Two goals in the first period certainly took some of the jump out of the Ice Wolves step.  That said, the Wolves finished the period outshooting the Terriers despite trailing by two.

 
The Ice Wolves are off to a rough start on their final set of road games before the playoffs.

After all the bus issues of Friday and Saturday, the team arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes before puck drop (as opposed to the usual two) against the Millionaires Saturday.  It was my first visit to the Horizon Credit Union Centre in Melville and it's a gorgeous facility.  Not quite on the same level of splendor as Spectra Place in Estevan, but it doesn't need to be.  The rink follows the now relatively standard designs of new Junior-A/small centre rinks with a bowl of seating traveling most of the way around the rink.  The luxury boxes on one wall (still under construction) are mirrored by a fitness centre across the way.  The one downside to the new rink is the lack of a broadcast booth.  This limits the ability for Melville to host any major events like the Western Canadian Championship in the future.

Enough about the rink.  The Ice Wolves rolled out to a solid start against the MIllionaires.  They hit everything in sight and it was quickly evident Melville didn't want to be in that type of game.  The problem for La Ronge was Alex Wakaluk.  He was unreal all night and robbed the Wolves on many a chance.  It took an equally impressive goal by Wilson Dumais to get the Wolves ahead going into the break.

 
I was going to write this post in beautiful Melville, Saskatchewan tomorrow, but seeing as the schedule has shifted, I'll take care of it now.

The Ice Wolves were supposed to leave La Ronge today (Friday) and take it nice and easy down to Melville where they would await the home team to arrive back from Nipawin.  Not so.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Wolves will now be head out tomorrow (Saturday) morning bright and early at 7:30.  Obviously makes for a much tougher day schedule, and it means I don't get to sleep in.  You may not care about the latter, but the former isn't to great for a team starting out on their most important road swing of the season.  I can imagine most of the players aren't pleased, but they're pretty good at sleeping on the bus anyway.

Enough on the transportation.  The Ice Wolves face off with the Millionaires for the first time since early December.  It's the first time the Wolves play at the new Horizon Credit Union Centre and the first time the Wolves see the Mills since the trade deadline.