The last time the Hawks and Ice Wolves came together, it was the final game for both teams before the holiday break. Even with the Hawks on a roll at the time, I don't think anyone predicted Stephen Klein's 52 save performance and a 3-2 win for the Hawks.
Since then the Hawks traded their top 20-year old scorers, and have only won three times. Will they be able to pull another upset on the SJHL leaders or will the Wolves move their winning streak to seven and the Hawks losing streak to six?
Read on for a preview of tonight's action.
Predicting a winner in the SJHL is like doing weather in Calgary. You can look at it and say, "Well I'm 90% sure we're going to get sun." Naturally it's a surprise snow storm. It's that ten percent uncertainty in the form of Stephen Klein that showed up and buried the Ice Wolves in December. A major difference between then and now would be the temperature level of the Hawks. In December they were Summer on a beach in Mexico hot. Right now, having lost 5 in a row and 9 of their last ten... they are Winter on a beach in Antarctica cold.
Does Antarctica have beaches? Is it really a beach if it's covered in snow? Both compelling and important questions, but not overly relevant to the hockey game.
The Ice Wolves are rolling along, doing what they do, if not at a slightly high efficiency than normal. La Ronge is on its longest winning streak of the season. The Wolves climbed their way to the top of the standings through consistency. Win a few games, lose one, win a few and so on. They're one of the only teams that hasn't gone through a huge winning streak or a real slump. The closest the Ice Wolves have had to a slump this season was when they came back off the holiday break, played poorly but were still winning.
The Hawks can still challenge for a playoff spot, and with the Bombers mired in a slump as well, they could catch Flin Flon. It pretty much has to start on Saturday, though. The Bombers sit eight points up on Nipawin ten left to play for the Hawks, who hold 2 in hand on Flin Flon. This is a very young team trying to find itself and grab a playoff spot at the same time. A tough combination. Safe to say there's a desperate team coming into the Mel.
Talking to Gavin Holcomb after the Wolves 5-2 win over Flin Flon, the coaching staff wasn't too happy with how the team played. It was a pretty loosey goosey affair, more like full contact shinny through parts of it, very different from the high tempo, close checking affair in La Ronge the night before. Expect the Wolves to come out looking to remedy that, as I'm sure Bob Beatty addressed the issue.
The starting netminders are a bit of a conundrum. Brody Hoffman gets the bulk of the work for Nipawin, but he was yanked against Estevan after two periods and six goals. So it's quite possible Klein will get another crack at the Ice Wolves.
For La Ronge, either option will go over just fine. Adam Bartko wasn't all that busy against Flin Flon on Wednesday picking up the win and looking solid in the process, and Myles Hovdebo held his own against the Bombers on Tuesday. Something to consider, Bartko has lost twice to the Hawks this year but that was when they featured the likes of Ceci and Spafford. Though Hovdebo started every game against the (for now) sixth place team in the South, the Notre Dame Hounds, Hovdebo only has one start in the bank against Nipawin. Could be another opportunity to keep Bartko rested, and get Hovdebo more action (his 3rd start in 4 games).
Now, inevitably, we come to Travis Eggum. He came oh so close to 50 goals in 50 games, but it wasn't to be. Now he sets his sight on scoring number 50 in front of a home crowd that will launch a plethora of fish onto the ice should he reach the number. I've set my guess at 3 or 4, which is kind of cheating since I picked two, but I'm writing the blog so I make the rules. I'll let you pick 2 amounts as well. With his all but goal per game pace, odds are high he will pop in number 50 Saturday night.
Ah the injury bug. So prevalent this time of year as players' bodies start to wear down. Many of the teams around the league have been dealing with their fair share of injury problems and it would appear to be the Ice Wolves' turn. After the blue-line was troubled by injuries in the playoffs last season, Bob Beatty came down the stretch with eight very solid defencemen, albeit one can only play in ten games until his Jr. B team has finished the season. Now, Phil Belanger is sidelined with his second concussion in about a year, though it seems to be relatively mild. He hasn't been experiencing dizziness since the first night and made the trip to Flin Flon. He could be back in the lineup in a week, but he doesn't want to rush it. Good choice.
Now Steven Cook joins Belanger on the sidelines with an upper body injury. He had to remain behind in Flin Flon for a bit at the hospital and the early prognosis wasn't good. Hopefully his recover comes sooner rather than later. It has to be frustrating to come all the way up here and find yourself out of the lineup just before the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see how Bob Beatty handles the injury situation. With only 5.5 defencemen because of Verret's status, who will be spending time on the point? One good guess would be Aaron Enns who was on the blue-line at the start of the year. With that move your lines probably look something like this.
Or something akin to that. With Dieno or Enns playing on the fourth line with Verret in.
Ice Wolves vs Hawks
(36-12-0-2 - 74 pts) Record (16-28-3-1 - 36 pts)
1st in Bauer Standing 6th in Bauer
24.7% PP% 16.7%
79.2% PK% 77.9%
With a six point lead in the Bauer Conference with eight games to play, the Ice Wolves need five wins to clinch first place.
Nine... the number of different goal scorers in the Ice Wolves back-to-back set with the Bombers. One line team? I think not.
In their last nine games, the Hawks have given up six goals or more six times, and five goals once.
Marc-Andre Carre (92 pts) sits eight points away from setting the Ice Wolves' franchise record for points (99 pts-Justin Rohr '02-'03)
Eli Lichtenwald leads the Hawks in scoring (20 G, 18 A - 38 pts) that's eleven points more than Tanner Dusyk who is the next highest scorer on the team.
With 132 to their name, the Hawks have scored fewer goals than any team in the SJHL, the Ice Wolves are at the top of that category with 90 more goals (122).
The Hawks have also given up the third most goals in the league (202), but that's still 20 less than the North Stars (222).
The webcast will begin shortly before puck drop at 7:30. The game is also being recorded on Access 7, not sure when the tape delay will run. It is possible I will end up doing the Access 7 cast if Dallas can't in which case the webcast may start early as we'll patch the audio. I'll try to let you know via twitter.
For fans in La Ronge, there is a Howl and Growl after the game featuring a Q and A with Bob Beatty and some of the players I believe. I'm hosting that, though I'm not sure what I'm doing. I think I'm just making sure everyone behaves and taking the mic to people.
Rejoice!! It's Friday! Have a great weekend!