First off, my car actually started today! Good times. You know it's gonna be a better day when it begins with your car actually starting. That opposed to when we got back from the Battlefords and Alex Vandenameele had to give me a boost (thanks man) and not starting yesterday. It took a 40 minute drive after a few boosts, but it looks like my car is running again, but, will it make it through tonight's game with no plug in? That's the real game story tonight.
Ok, enough about my car issues and onto the hockey, which is why you're really here. You may have noticed the 1/5 as part of the title. The Wolves and Bombers come together tonight for the first instalment of five over the next ten games, and I'm not creative enough to come up with different titles for each match-up. The first meeting is in La Ronge tonight and there's plenty to talk about, no guarantees it doesn't involve my car.
Read on for a preview of what's goin down in the Mel tonight.
These five games are huge for the Ice Wolves, sure they're split up by other games, but we should take a look at what the overall series could mean.
1. Aside from the fact there are games with other teams, it's like a mini playoff series. 5 games against the same team in a short amount of time is a great way for the guys to feel a little bit of that intensity the playoffs will bring... an appetizer of sorts.
2. Five winnable games. That's not saying they will win all of them, but if this team is going to come in first in the division, they need to take most of them, if not all. There are 10 points to be had in these five games and with the Mustangs breathing down the Wolves' collective neck, they are 10 important points.
3. Confidence... the Bombers are 2-8 in their last 10 and 24 points back of the Ice Wolves. Not winning most of these games would not be the best for the confidence of this club. The Wolves have a pretty good feel about them right now and I'm sure you wouldn't want to see that gone.
But, like Coach Beatty said yesterday on the phone, they've still got to take it one game at a time, meaning after tonight, the Ice Wolves play Weyburn, not Flin Flon. If the intensity of this 'series' picks up, the Wolves (and Bombers for that matter) will have to avoid falling into the trap of looking past an opponent towards the Bombers.
So in the spirit of one game at a time, I'll tee up tonight's contest.
As I've already said, the Bombers are a team that have struggled over the last while. Heading into the Holiday break they were on a four game losing streak, which the Ice Wolves extended. It looked like Flin Flon had sorted everything out when they went on a seven game winning streak in November, but that magic appears to have flown out the window.
To make matters worse, though they're not off the roster, Eric Millisor and Dougie McLeod aren't with the Bombers any more. The question becomes, did Mike Reagan know they would be leaving before the deadline? Or did they spring it on him? It seems like an awful time to be down two bodies that you can't even make a trade to replace. Millisor is fourth on the team in points (30) and goals (16), so that is a fair bit of offense gone from the line up. It remains to be seen what fallout results from the loss of the players and if it messes with the locker room, or maybe improves it. Who knows?
Speaking of offense, fans at the Mel could see a franchise record set tonight. Travis Eggum sits with 42 goals on the season, that ties him with former Wolf Trent Campbell for the record. Campbell now plays for the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL along with last year's player of the year, Dustin Stevenson (who scored his first professional goal the other night). With Eggum's near-goal per game pace, the odds are decent the Wolves could have a new single-season goal record, maybe even tonight.
Eggum's play has been instrumental in helping the Ice Wolves to a 7-1-0-0 record in 2011. The Wolves stumbled through the first few games, but managed to get wins and seem to be finding their game once more. They didn't have the greatest outing in the Battlefords on Friday, but a lot of the plays seemed to be attributable to tired brains. Expect them to be much stronger tonight.
Don't come to the game tonight expecting the Ice Wolves to run over the Bombers. Flin Flon won the last meeting between the teams in La Ronge, 4-3 in a shootout. The smaller rink plays to the Bomb Sqaud's strengths and goalie P.J. Musico is always a threat to steal a game. Luckily for the Ice Wolves, their own goalie tandem of Bartko and Hovdebo have been playing some solid hockey of late. I would think with the few days rest, we'll see Adam Bartko going for his 21st win of the season, which would tie the franchise record. Bartko won 21 games last season, and Alex Gagnon won 21 in 2004-2005.
Notes and Numbers time!!
Ice Wolves vs Bombers
(30-11-0-2 - 62 pts) Record (18-21-2-0 - 38 pts)
1st in Bauer Standing 5th in Bauer
24.6% PP% 15.6%
79.1% PK% 80.6%
Keeping with Adam Bartko, since the Wolves only loss in 2011 (3-2 @ Weyburn), Bartko has been on fire. In his last three games, he has a 1.96 GAA and a 0.942 Sv%, allowing 6 goals on 104 shots.
After a tough start to the season on home ice, the Wolves have won 6 of their last 7 at the Mel. The Bombers, however, haven't won a road game in over a month. They have lost seven straight away from the Whitney Forum since December 4th.
For the first time in almost two months, the Ice Wolves don't own the best powerplay in the league. After a three game stretch where they failed to score, and some games with lots of opportunities with few goals, the Wolves 24.6% is second to Humboldt (25%). I don't think 24.6% is any reason to panic, though, the powerplay scored both Ice Wolves goals on Friday.
Travis Eggum owns the longest current point streak in the SJHL at 15 games. Over that stretch, he has 15 goals and 10 assists. It's the fourth longest streak this season. Will he chase down Marc-Andre Carre's streak of 21 games?
Even though the Bombers have struggled, they are fourth in the SJHL in goals allowed, with 144 on the season. The Wolves are just ahead of them with 136.
A big reason the Bombers don't allow too many goals is the man in net, P.J. Musico. He owns the third highest save percentage among S-J goalies (0.912), the most saves in the league, by over 200 saves, and he's a workhorse as the only goalie with over 2000 minutes played (2005).
Apparently my car battery is 10 years old, you should change your car battery every 5 or so. Wish my dad had told me it was that old when he sold me the car. Though my battery is probably up for some electronic life-time achievement award, it's time to retire...
Sorry, I had to throw that in. I told you no guarantees I wouldn't talk about my car. Curtis and I will have the webcast for those of you down south or east (that's you Flin Flon) tonight at 7:30. If you're in La Ronge, though I know you love the sultry sound of my voice, come on out to the game and catch it in person. There were over 1000 people at the Civic Centre on Friday in the Battlefords, are you going to let them out attend you?
I'll have the post game report up tomorrow morning, catch you then!