The Ice Wolves head out before the weekend to take on a couple of teams they just played within the last week or so. Thursday night, the Wolves face the Humboldt Broncos for the third time since starting out after the holiday break. The Wolves have won the last three meetings between the teams and they'll look to make it four in a row.
The Wolves have played strong in their last couple games. Battles that took on a playoff-like edge. They'll have to keep it up to fend off the Melfort Mustangs and hold onto the top spot in the Bauer Conference.
Read on for a preview of the game in Battlefords.
The last game in Humboldt was a sub-par effort for the Ice Wolves, but they still managed a win. A goofy goal from Graham Smerek gave them the lead, and a nice, skilled goal from Marc-Andre Carre gave La Ronge the cushion they would need to win the game.
This time out, the Wolves seem to have found their game once more and need to keep it going against Humboldt. The Broncos are a team without the stars they featured at the beginning of the season, but they are also a team determined to prove they aren't going to just bow out from the playoff race. A huge 4-1 win over Nipawin the other night gave them a bit of a cushion over the North Stars and they would love nothing more than to beat the team that has already taken them out twice in 2011.
The Ice Wolves sit six points ahead of Melfort with an extra game on the Mustangs, who don't play until the weekend. Two wins before the weekend would put them 10 points ahead and a whole pile of pressure on the Mustangs to match the Ice Wolves. Teams say they only pay attention to themselves and don't worry about what's going on with the other teams, but you know and I know that's not entirely true. They definitely pay attention and feel the press of teams catching up and pulling away.
Goalies for the game are up in the air. Bartko has been quite busy of late and Hovdebo performed well enough against Humboldt last time out so we could see the Ice Wolves' backup between the pipes. On the other hand, Bartko is building serious momentum heading into the final games of the season and I'm sure Coach Beatty wants to see that continue.
For the Broncos, it seems odd that they didn't move Andrew Bodnarchuk, seeing as he was the only 20 year old left on the team. Either that means Dean Brockman hopes he might be able to steal some playoff games, maybe a series... or, more likely, they couldn't move him. It could be the asking price was just too high for netminder based on his stats this year or something else. We'll never know, unless you do and you tell me... then we'll both know.
If Nick Keller gets into the Ice Wolves lineup, it will be a matchup that would have seemed very unlikely earlier last week. The Broncos traded the 20-year old to Swan Valley in the MJHL and it was thought that was that. Keller played a couple games with the Stampeders, but wanted to finish his Junior-A career in the SJHL. The Stampeders, Ice Wolves and Klippers obliged him. A three way deal brought Keller to La Ronge and Zane Morin to Kindersley. Now Keller has a chance to play the team he put up 31 points with this season.
Would you like some stats and notes now? Sounds good to me!
Ice Wolves vs Broncos
(28-11-0-2 - 58 pts) Record (21-18-0-1 - 43 pts)
1st in Bauer Standing 3rd in Bauer
24.2% PP% 24.0%
78.9% PK% 84.9%
The Ice Wolves went to the third period tied with the Battlefords North Stars on Tuesday. It's only the second time this season the Wolves have gone into the final frame all square with a team. They hold a 1-0-0-1 record when entering the third period tied. The Broncos have been tied after two six times, and hold a 4-2-0-0 record.
The Broncos hold the best penalty kill in the league (84.9%), but its even better at home! The Broncos have killed off 87.9% of the penalties against them on home ice.
After their trade blitz, the Broncos don't have any players with more than 10 goals on their squad. They do have three players with ten goals (Roach, Szucki and Johnson).
Myles Hovdebo would love to get the start against Humboldt. In 1.5 games played against the Broncos this year, he has a 2.46 GAA and a 0.915 Sv% including a win in the team's last match. None of the other goalies in this game have stats even close when facing each other. Bartko (4.39 GAA, 0.867 Sv%), Bodnarchuk (6.38 GAA, 0.841 Sv%), Hrynkiw (4.39 GAA, 0.836 Sv%)
Everyone knows Marc-Andre Carre is having a brilliant season. But how great has he been? He's tied with Doug Lindensmith for tops in league scoring, but he's played in 3 less games. His points per game average sits at 2.00 even.
Graham Smerek has been one of the hottest Ice Wolves of late. He has six points (3 G, 3A) in his last four games, including the game winner in the Broncos and Wolves last meeting.
I'll have the pre-game show from Humboldt for you at 7:15 with puck drop at 7:30. I should have the post-game recap up a couple hours after the game finishes up.
Catch you after the game!!