Gimme a second here... *STREEEEEETCH* okay, I'm ready to go.
The Ice Wolves end the holiday break on Sunday when they face off with the Flin Flon Bombers in an early 2:00 p.m. game at the Whitney Forum. Both teams finished 2010 with a loss and look to reverse their fortunes in 2011.
Read on as I set up the teams' third meeting of the season.
It's the first official post-Christmas game for the Wolves and Bombers, but both teams got in an exhibition game against the Swedish Under-17 Team. The Bombers fell 5-4 to the Swedes while the Wolves squandered a lead, falling 5-3.
La Ronge and Flin Flon split the first two meetings of the season with the Wolves winning 10-2 in Flin Flon and the Bombers stealing a 4-3 shootout win in La Ronge. I say steal because they came from behind late to tie the game and P.J. Musico was absolutely stellar. There was supposed to be a third meeting already, but the last time I previewed a LR/FF game, the Bombers couldn't make the trip due to weather. Which naturally I found out after I was all done.
That's enough whining from me. The Bombers need a win from this game, plain and simple. After winning seven in a row, it has been tough sailing for the Bomb Squad. They're 3-6-1-0 in their last ten and have dropped four in a row. The last time the Bombers beat the Wolves, it set off aforementioned winning streak and brought Flin Flon into contention for the top three spots in the Bauer Conference. With Nipawin's recent resurgence, the bottom spot in the conference looms ever-closer, six points away in fact. Slightly closer, however, is what the Bombers would rather watch and that's the five point gap between themselves and the Humboldt Broncos for third place.
If the Bombers made a New Year's Resolution, it would most likely be to score some goals on the powerplay. They're dead-last in the SJHL with the man advantage at an abysmal 16.8%... almost 10% behind the Ice Wolves at the top of the league.
Ice Wolves fans will undoubtedly hope that the break gave Adam Bartko some time to find his game again. It was a tough couple weeks leading up to the break for Bartko, who now sits with a 3.31 GAA. The Ice Wolves' hopes of nailing down first place in the Bauer and repeating as SJHL Champions lie heavily with their leading man. He played very well against the Bombers in the first two meetings so look for a strong game from him.
One of the biggest reasons for the Ice Wolves' success in the 2010 portion of the season was the big line of Lindensmith, Carre and Eggum. With 82 goals between the three of them in the first 35 games, it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their 1, 2, 3 placing in league scoring through the home stretch of the season.
The Ice Wolves may sit 12 points ahead of the Bombers in the standings, but this is a big game because of the teams closer in the standings. The Wolves are only 2 points up on the Melfort Mustangs for top spot in the Bauer Conference with the Mustangs pushing hard to catch the Wolves. Also, La Ronge hasn't had a ton of success in their division this season. Eight of their twelve losses have been against teams within their division. They'll need to turn that record around if they want to hold off the Mustangs.
Here's how the stats match up.
Ice Wolves vs Bombers
(23-10-0-2 - 48 pts) Record (17-17-2-0- 36 pts)
1st in Bauer Standing 4th in Bauer
26.5% PP% 16.8%
78.1% PK% 80.9%
The Ice Wolves will be without Head Coach Bob Beatty for the game. He's in Winnipeg for the World U17 Hockey Challenge as an assistant coach for Team Canada West. They're 1-1 through two games at the Challenge.
The Ice Wolves weren't dreaming of sugar plums before Christmas... they were having nightmares of Nipawin netminder Stephen Klein. He stopped 52 of 54 shots, many of them outrageous saves en route to a 3-2 Nipawin victory in the Wolves final game of 2010. The Wolves seem to bring out the best in some goalies, like in their last meeting with the Bombers. P.J. Musico made 48 saves in the shootout win.
Speaking of Musico... he has played more minutes than any goalie in the SJHL (1723). He also has the most saves with 1042, that's 155 saves more than the second most (Devin Peters - Yorkton).
Doug Lindensmith had his 19 game point streak snapped against Nipawin in the last game of 2010. That streak tied Justin Buzzeo's 19-gamer for the longest all season. Marc-Andre Carre can tie those two if he can extend his current 18 game point streak against the Bombers.
The Bombers' Jesse Mychan is tied for the league lead in penalty minutes with Estevan's Ty Ariss. In the first game of the season, Mychan picked up 32 of those penalty minutes and a one-game suspension.
The Ice Wolves have two penalty shot goals against the Bombers this season. Rhyse Dieno and Justin Ducharme picked up the markers.
I'll have the call of the game from Flin Flon with the pre-game starting at 1:45 p.m. on MBC. Puck drop is at 2 p.m.
For those of you in Flin Flon, I'll see you there along with any folks brave enough to make the trip from La Ronge.