Two of the hottest teams in the league since the SJHL Showcase meet this weekend in the North as the Ice Wolves host the Red Wings.
The Wolves picked up their play a game before the Showcase while the Red Wings bounced back from an 11 a.m. loss to La Ronge to go on a six game winning streak. Both Weyburn and La Ronge sit with 22 points on the season, though the Red Wings have played three less games than the Ice Wolves. To highlight the disparity between conferences, the Wolves are in fifth with 22 while the Wings sit second with 22. A lot of that can be attributed to the Bauer Conference teams playing a total of eight more games than the Sherwood Conference teams, but not all of it.
In the early going the Bauer Conference sits 29-21-1-1 against the Sherwood. A pretty good record helped mostly by the Ice Wolves standout 8-and-2 record against teams from the South. Last season, they were 19-5-0-1 against the South. Which must have the Wolves wishing they could play those teams more often.
Reasons for the Ice Wolves recent success go beyond playing teams from the Sherwood Conference. Solid goaltending, good defence and great play on home ice are the main contributing factors.
Coming into tonight, Alex Rajotte has only allowed four goals in his last four starts. That's a product of him playing very well (won his second Goalie of the Week award) and his defence starting to come together. The Wolves feature a pretty young core of defenders with four '93's in the the lineup and as they improve, the team's goals against numbers will improve with that. When you have a goalie playing as well as Rajotte, it gives those young players the extra confidence that's so important.
Offensively, the Wolves are still underpowered on the road, but at home it's a different story. While the Mel is certainly a friendly place for goalies to work on their save percentage, the Wolves have been earning those high shot counts. Ty Reichenbach was probably out like a light on the bus ride back from La Ronge Sunday because he faced more shots than most goalies will in two games. If the Wolves could pepper the net on the road like they do at the Mel, they'd certainly feature a better record away from La Ronge. Of course what leads to much of that success is the small ice at the Mel. Without the elite level scoring some other teams feature, the Wolves grind it out mentality really works at the Mel. They can clog opposing offences and as long as they don't get into a segment of good ol' river hockey like they did against Notre Dame, they'll rarely get into trouble at home.
I don't have a ton to say about the Red Wings. Sure, I saw them and wasn't even calling the game so I got to really watch, but I don't think I saw the same Weyburn team that's in La Ronge tonight. I saw a team with a good first line that played way too fancy and no depth behind it. These days, the Wings have plenty of secondary scoring, especially in Rookie of the Month, Jack Kennelly. He picked up eight goals and two assists in thirteen games in October. The top line has been humming along as well with Jesse Ross up to 25 points on the season and Keegan Bruce nipping at his heels with 22.
It always helps the offence when you get a contribution from the blue-line (as the Wolves found against Notre Dame getting 2 from defenders) so when there are two defenceman into double digits that's even better.
Ryan Whitell (5-5-10) and Carl Struthers (2-10-12) have been chipping in offensively and for a team that still doesn't have a ton of scoring depth that's huge. The Ice Wolves hope they can get a similar contribution on their
back-end with David Greyeyes back in the lineup (scored the winner, Sunday).
In goal for the Red Wings, Mitch Kilgore was supposed to rank among the top few goalies in the league, but got off to a tough start. He's been playing better of late, though, and is a large part of Weyburn's recent success. The Wolves didn't face him at the Showcase, though, they went up against Brett Tesky who played a solid sixty minutes. It will likely be a split of the two this weekend in the back to back games.
In regards to the Ice Wolves lineup tonight, Nathan Boyer will not be in the lineup this weekend because of the laceration he sustained last week against Kindersley. Brett Hope and Brett McNevin remain in the press box due to their two game suspensions. So that means Prince Albert Mintos forward, Jason Duret gets the call again for the Wolves. He played quite well as an AP on Sunday and is coming off a solid game last night against Battlefords in Midget AAA action. He scored twice in the Mintos 5-1 win.
It's parents weekend starting tonight so if you're in La Ronge come over and introduce yourself. I'm the guy lurking in the press box above the Wolves bench. I'll also apologize in advance for the people I know I've met and can't remember your names. Ironically, I'm awful with connecting names and faces. If everyone came with numbers on their backs and name-bars, I'd be set, but that's not how it works so...
Curtis and I will have the broadcast revved up for the other half of our viewing audience (non-Ice Wolves parents) a few minutes before puck drop on both nights.
Enjoy the games and I'll break it all down Monday.