I don't have any awesome Latin Phrases to get you pumped up for tonight's game, but I can provide you with everything you need to be a knowledgeable fan and all around good person. Okay, even that's a stretch.
The next few paragraphs were all available yesterday on my Google+ page. I'm going to start posting some small bits on exclusively G+ before bringing them over to the blog in various ways, whether it's in a dedicated post or a part of one like today's. A great way to get Wolves updates is to get on Google+ and add me to your circles.
After a relatively relaxing week with only one game on the docket, the Ice Wolves face a much tougher schedule in the coming two weeks leading up to the holiday break. It's a set of six games that will give us a much better idea of where the Ice Wolves sit coming up to the January 10th trade deadline.
First up, the Nipawin Hawks tonight. The Ice Wolves are 1-2-1 against Nipawin to this point and have only played the Hawks once at the Mel, that 7-2 home opener disaster. The Hawks are the 'easiest' part of the stretch seeing as they're on tough times of late. That doesn't mean it will be an easy game by any means as the Hawks are plenty dangerous.
Then it's the mysterious Melville Millionaires. I say mysterious to A) get the alliteration in and B) because the Wolves haven't seen them yet this season. A twin-bill split between the Mel and JRMCC will be a great chance for Wolves fans to see the scoring phenom Russell Trudeau in La Ronge.
On to next week, when the Wolves host non-other than the #4 ranked team in the country, the Battlefords North Stars. Over the past couple seasons, these teams have fought out far too many close games for fans to remain healthy through. In the season series, the home team has won every game, with the North Stars up 2-1.
Finally, another weekend double feature, this one against Humboldt. The Broncos have yet to lose to La Ronge, owning a 3-0 record against the Wolves including a wild one in La Ronge most recently.
The Ice Wolves certainly have their work cut out for them. If the Wolves can come out with 4 or 5 wins, they're sitting pretty as a team that can make some noise in the playoffs. One thing's for sure, the answer to contender or pretender could be very close to an answer by December 17th.
Getting back to the Nipawin Hawks. This is a team that started the season 10-1, in case you forgot. There's a ton of talent on that squad with plenty of potential to go with it. Nobody expected them to get off to the start they did, and now I think everyone's a little surprised they're in such a rut. It's something the Ice Wolves can capitalize on, but you have to figure the Hawks will break out of it some time. Fans in La Ronge just hope it's not tonight.
Since lighting up the league in the early going, Tad Kozun only has two points (1G, 1A) in his last ten games and his grip on the lead in rookie scoring has been slipping away. More importantly, he's not coming up with those clutch goals he was providing in the early going. Obviously Kozun isn't alone in his struggles with the team having won only 5 of their last 19 games (starting with an OT loss to La Ronge).
Early in the season, the Hawks were getting some of the best goaltending in the league. That hasn't exactly been the case over the losing stretch. Davis Jones' stellar numbers have fallen and
Taran Kozun continues to struggle to find his groove in the SJHL. Though it is interesting to note, Kozun's only win came against the Ice Wolves. Jones and Kozun will need to find some of the mojo Jones and Klein had going in the early stages to get the team rolling back in the right direction.
With their position in the standings in doubt, some decisions loom for Doug Johnson. He knew the team would still be a season, maybe two away from competing for a Championship, but had to be thinking with a couple of moves maybe... Unfortunately it hasn't looked great in Hawks land so does he move 20-year olds like Scott Bellefer, Adam Reichert, and Dan Szerlip? Or does he hope things turn in time for the playoffs? He has a month to make his final call on that one, and of course it may depend on what coaches are willing to give up for those players.
When January 10th rolls around, the Ice Wolves could very well be in the market for one of those players depending on how the Ice Wolves sit after this stretch of games and the couple after the Holiday Break. Their latest acquisition, Brennan Wright, will not be in the lineup tonight as the Wolves hunt for their fourth win in a row. I believe he got in last night, and maybe even this morning. It would have been a pretty nasty travel schedule to get a guy in the lineup right away.
Marc-Andre Carre continues to impress with his play since returning to La Ronge. He rolls into tonight's game with 14 points in 8 games since re-donning the Ice Wolves uni. Something the Ice Wolves have not struggled with in recent games, is offence. In four of their last five games, the Wolves have scored five or more goals. It seems to be becoming business as usual as the Wolves are finding all sorts of different ways to score. Greasy goals, pretty goals, it really doesn't matter to this team and it's working right now.
On the back end, Louis-Joseph Sawyer continues to impress in recent games. Production-wise, he has a five game point streak on the go which is nice to have from the blue-line. Defensively, he continues to improve and really benefits from playing with Alex Vandenameele. I really like the Wolves d-pairings and how the younger guys (Sawyer and Franklin Cook) get paired with someone that can really be a mentor through the season. The other advantage is there's no shortage of playing time for these guys with the option to play Brett Hope as a forward and take advantage of his offensive abilities.
In net, the Ice Wolves go with Alex Rajotte tonight. That was to be expected after Myles Hovdebo got the call against Kindersley. It will be interesting to see who Bob Beatty goes with in the first half of this weekend's back to back with Melville, and it may hinge on how Rajotte performs tonight. Rajotte had a tough run of games going, but rebounded nicely against the Flin Flon Bombers a couple weekends ago. Something to keep an eye on, Rajotte hasn't played in a game for nine going on ten days. A nice break for the SJHL's saves leader, but he could be a touch rusty.
Curtis and I will have the broadcast of tonight's game starting up a few minutes before puck drop which is 7:30 CST. Might try to get Brennan Wright to come on for a minute or two to get acquainted, we'll see if that develops.
Enjoy the game!