After spending last weekend in Estevan, the Ice Wolves will now actually play against Estevan. Yes, it may have been a little odd that the Wolves went all the way down to the Energy City to face one of their shortest drives in Nipawin, but hey, it was a good game. Now the Bruins get to make the long drive and from what I gather, got here last night.
The Bruins are off to a pretty good start this season, sitting first in the Sherwood Conference with a record of 9-and-5. This will be a good measuring stick for the Ice Wolves to make sure that 3-2 OT win over Nipawin wasn't a fluke. We've seen how strong the Wolves can play at home and they've got some good competition to play against this weekend.
The Bruins scoring attack starts with their top line (go figure) of Cole Olsen, Dylan Smith and Calder Neufeld. The line sits with 21, 24 and 16 points respectively and has been very tough to stop in the early going. They have slowed off their ridiculous pace from the very start of the season, but from the numbers, they can be expected to do some damage if left open. Neufeld has been battling some injury problems in the last few games and I haven't been able to confirm if he's in or out, but my learned "Estevan Source" wouldn't be surprised if he's out of the lineup.
The top three aren't where the Bruins cap out, though. Guys like Taylor Reich (6-3-9) and Matt Brykaliuk (3-2-5) were excellent at the Showcase game I saw. Matt Dochylo (2-5-7), Josh Jelinski (4-2-6) and Tanner Froese (5-0-5) round out some of the secondary scoring for the B's. The Wolves defence can't take a shift off, because there is plenty of offence waiting to strike.
The Bruins defence is a young one with only one 20-year old (Dominic Perrault) a part of the corps. I've only seen the Bruins once, and in that game wasn't always keeping my eye riveted on the play so I can't comment too much on their defence, but they have allowed the second most goals in the Sherwood conference. To kind of counteract that statistic, the Bruins defence has contributed its fair share of the offence, but they do get some solid backup in goal.
Steven Glass is the real deal. Glass along with Ty Reichenbach, Stephen Klein and Alex Wakaluk show there is a great crop of goaltenders in the SJHL. The common thread with these players? They're all in their eighteen year old seasons. Glass comes into the weekend sporting a 2.30 GAA and leads the league with a .929 Sv%. He was great in the game I saw against Humboldt, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him between the pipes tonight. That said, Estevan has a few options with Brandon Stone arriving from the WHL and Derek Tendler as well. Wolves fans could see any combination of the three this weekend.
On the home side, it's been a while since I've broken down the lines, so here we go.
The Wolves' Billet Line (and yes, we've been over this they don't actual billet together anymore) continues to lead the way offensively with a combined 25 points (Boyer-9, Hladun-8, Smerek-8). Aaron Enns has been increasing his offensive contribution after a slow start to the season. Enns scored two game winners on the road trip, though only one of them will show on the stat-sheets. He picked up two markers against Weyburn and now leads the Wolves in goals.
The line of Jared Iron, Johney Cormier and Jordan Ethier is still trying to find its way. There's plenty of skill on the line, the problem has been putting it together. If this line can get calibrated, they could quickly jump in as the Wolves top offensive line, but right now it's just getting on the same page.
I've been very impressed with Enns' linemates over the last few games. Brett McNevin and Brodie Eisbrenner have pretty solid chemistry that likely comes from playing on the same team for the past few years now. First in Midget in Calgary then in Lloydminster in Junior A. The line plays with some great intensity and bite and brings enough skill and speed to keep teams honest. Eisbrenner made a fantastic play to get the Wolves by the Hawks at the showcase with McNevin right there as well.
The line of Pat Tran, Pavlo Zerebecky and Tyson Valette is one of those lines that can sneak up on teams. They're fast and skilled, but fly under the radar. They're also one of the Ice Wolves most 'diverse' lines with each player coming from different places in hockey last season. Tran, a 20-year old and veteran of the SJ, Zerebecky played Junior-B last season and Valette hails from Alberta Midget. If you ask Tran, he probably hasn't had the offensive stats he would have liked early in the season with only two goals, but he's an integral part of the Wolves penalty kill which performed so well on the road trip. He also brings his experience to the front and that's a great help for the two guys on his wing. Zerebecky has been heating up recently with goals in his last two games, so we could see more production out of this line soon.
The defence is still going through the process as a young group. It sure doesn't help that Scott Helmkay and David Greyeyes are both out of the lineup taking out experience and another one of the kids who needs this early season experience. Brett Hope has made very good strides recently, but still has work to do. Franklin Cook has been steady for the Wolves, and got his first goal on the weekend. Louis-Joseph Sawyer continues to impress as an 18-year old, but the occasional poor decision or positioning error from any of the young guys is something that will lessen through the season. The veterans in Vandenameele, Bula and Weisensel have a tough job both mentoring and trying to hold teams off the scoresheet. The Wolves don't score a ton of goals so it's on these guys to help keep the game in reach. Something they did very well against Nipawin.
The goalies' seasons have been so up and down it's tough to get a read. The Wolves are the only team in the league with two goalies that have earned goalie of the week honours, yet their back-stops sit 16th and 17th in GAA in the league. Both goalies had great road trips as Rajotte kept the 5-1 loss from being a farce and was rewarded with some goal support against Weyburn. Hovdebo was fantastic in two high pressure and low scoring games which earned him last week's GoW honour. Finding consistency in net will sit heavily on finding consistency with the defenders, so as the Wolves young blue-liners improve, watch for the Ice Wolves goaltenders numbers to get better.
I haven't heard anything this week, but expect a new face or two around the Ice Wolves soon. After Alex Cameron left the team due to the import situation and back-log of defencemen, the roster sits at 22 for La Ronge. So the Wolves will be looking to add, likely another forward to the mix in the next little bit.
If the Wolves can play their tight checking dump and chase style, I like their chances against the Bruins young defence. It's definitely a situation where the Wolves forwards, if they can hound the B's constantly, will be rewarded in the offensive zone.
The Wolves are riding a three game home winning streak along with their overall three game string. They haven't been able to win more than three in a row yet, and doing it tonight would be a great boost for the Wolves.
I'll have the call of tonight's game on the webcast with Curtis starting shortly before puck drop at 7:30. It'll be nice to get back in the Mel after six straight on the road. Saturday's game goes at the JRMCC. If you're out of town and reading this, the JRMCC is another rink in the area and there won't be a webcast. However, I'll have another live blog up and running (in theory) while I take care of the PA Announcing duties as well.
A couple of big games for the Ice Wolves this weekend as four points could put them right into the thick of things in the Bauer Conference.