The sampling for the Ice Wolves against the Broncos this season is two games. Two very unhappy looking games, if you're an Ice Wolf of course. The Wolves have been, as Bob Beatty put it, "educated" by the Broncos and their fast transition game twice this season to the tune of 7-1 and 5-1 losses. If not for the heroics of goaltender Alex Rajotte, the 5-1 could have easily been 8 or 9.
That was a different time in the 2011-12 Ice Wolves' history, though. In fact those games were the second and seventh losses in a row on the road for the Wolves early in the season. Since the 5-1 loss, the Wolves are 6-1-2 on the road, but that's not really important tonight. The Mel is definitely a different beast than the EPA, the Wolves are a different team on home ice and (oh, ya) the Wolves added three players since the teams last met.
Tonight's game marks the return of Marc-Andre Carre to the Mel along with the first time Brennan Ritchie and Zac Ashdown will play at their home rink. That could get a little sidetracked as Ashdown was feeling a little under the weather yesterday. Hopefully he'll be good to go. With all the new additions, there is a rising buzz about the team in La Ronge. I've heard "threepeat" from fans more in the last two weeks than the entire offseason and season combined. I'm hoping that translates into a great crowd at the game tonight, as weekday games can be a little lacklustre attendance-wise in any Junior-A centre.
The Wolves are rolling along with new confidence and look like a team ready to make noise in the standings. They sit just two points back of the Broncos for second place and a win tonight could launch the Wolves into a tie with Humboldt and (for once) have the same amount of games under their belt.
I can talk all I want about the Wolves turning their season around, but they face a team doing exactly the same thing. Well, almost exactly. The Broncos didn't dig themselves a hole like the Ice Wolves, but had been running a .500 record pretty much from the outset. For a team expected to dominate the league before the season opened, that wasn't really an option. Most felt it was just a matter of time before the Broncos got rolling, and it looks like they're on the warpath now. They're 8-2 in their last ten and seem to have figured out their problems to go with the occasional blip over that span (like a 4-1 loss to Yorkton).
Up front, Andrew Johnston continues to do what Dean Brockman acquried him for, and that's produce. He sits fifth in league scoring with 41 points in 28 games. Robbie Ciolfi has slowed down considerably after the first couple weeks of the season, but still has more points than any Ice Wolf (27). As the Wolves learned the hard way, any line can do damage for the Broncos. There's a ton of speed in this lineup and it will dominate if given the chance.
The defence hasn't been impregnable this season, but with so much focus on transition, the puck never stays in the Broncos end for long. Their D-men always look for a quick pass to get the puck moving. The quicker the better. It will be interesting to see how that goes in the Mel. With the smaller ice surface, those passes won't have to be as long, but it's more likely there will be a stick in a lane. Look for the Wolves to put as much pressure on the defence as possible to force some turnovers.
In goal, Deven Dubyk seems to have found his game after a slow start. He's now third on the GAA list (2.54), fourth in Save Percentage (.912) and earned his first shutout of the season last Wednesday. If he can keep up that pace, the Broncos will be tough to beat the rest of the way. The Broncos 'Plan B' is pretty decent as well. Matt Hrynkiw is challenging Dubyk with an 8-2-1 record,
a 2.62 GAA and a .905 save percentage and a shutout of his own.
When the Wolves last faced off with the Broncos, there were serious questions about their offence. It seems those questions have been answered. Skyler Hladun keeps on rolling with his point streak. Aaron Enns jumped into the team lead for scoring with his four point night against Notre Dame.
Marc-Andre Carre has been stellar since returning with seven points in four games. The scoring is there and the defence has been strong to go with the goaltending. The Wolves have points in their last six games and I'm excited to see what happens when these two red hot teams collide.
As I wrap up, I want to go back to Carre for a moment. The Ice Wolves all time scoring record is held by Justin Rohr with 195 points. Doug Lindensmith closed in on the mark last season, with 191 points in his three year career with the Wolves. If he hadn't been injured late in the season, he may have reached the record. M-A-C sits with 160 career points in La Ronge. With 30 games remaining in the season, he'll need to go at just over a point per game down the stretch. Certainly attainable, but it will still be close.
Consider the countdown on.