It has been a pretty quiet week for me on the blog front. After the Wolves fell to the North Stars 2-0, I took a little break on the weekend and figured we'd puzzled over the Ice Wolves road trip enough. Naturally I'll puzzle over it some more in this post, but it was nice to take a quick break.
A couple of house-keeping notes before I talk about the Ice Wolves and Terriers game tonight. The 2011-12 Broadcast Interviews and
2011-12 Feature Interviews pages are up and running in the Audio on Demand page. So if you missed an interview you wanted to hear in a broadcast, chances are good it will be in that section unless it's a live interview. I changed up the format this season to make it a little easier to tell each game apart.
Second item is the podcast. I've stressed I want to try and keep it fairly regular, but right now that isn't really how it's going. I apologize for that and hopefully I can get it running with some kind of normalcy in the near future. I will likely be shifting its release date to later in the week so I can avoid running into road trip issues and the like.
With that out of the way, lets talk about the Ice Wolves and Terriers shall we? The Ice Wolves main deal, as has come up in ... oh in the last three or four posts, is goal scoring. Seven in six games isn't going to cut it in the SJHL, especially when Calder Neufeld has that many goals for Estevan in two less games. So Ice Wolves fans hope the team's annual fishing trip and a weeks worth of practice will solve some of the Wolves' goal scoring woes.
So what better to inspire offence than raising the 2011 SJHL Championship banner of a team that was an offensive sledgehammer? Yes, the banner(s) go up tonight rising all of the 10-15 feet to the rafters of the Mel. Fitting that it would be the night that the Yorkton Terriers (the team the Wolves defeated) are in town for the event. That said, the teams look pretty different from that night in April. The Ice Wolves will have a few veterans from last year's team in the stands for the raising, and of course the nine on the ice. Bill Chow will make his first trip to La Ronge as SJHL President for the raising as well.
The Terriers are off to a decent first few games of the season, sitting at 3-and-1 through their first four contests. Jeremy Johnson, who was a key part of the Ochapowace Thunder last season in Junior-B is tearing up up in the early season with six points to his name already. He's joined by 18-year old Jamie Vlanich at the top of the Terriers scoring list. The Terriers returned something like 12 players with another few who played for them last season, so the hurt of the last time they were in the Mel will likely be a key intangible factor tonight.
The place on the depth chart where the Terriers changed the most is their top flight scoring. Removing Justin Buzzeo, Jeremy Boyer, Robbie Ciolfi and Clarke Breitkruez from a roster is a pretty serious blow. That said, players are stepping up into roles the team was hoping for. I don't think the Terriers are going to score as many goals as they did last season, but they certainly aren't hamstrung offensively.
Goaltending was also something that changed big time with Devin Peters graduating from the league. Warren Shymko is the guy now and off to a decent enough start with a 2-1 record, 3.01 GAA and 0.883 Sv%. I would imagine he'll be between the pipes tonight and Kamil Przepiorka (apparently pronounced sha-peer-ka) may get the call tomorrow. I eagerly await having Curtis say the name without telling him how to pronounce it.
For the Ice Wolves, I spoke to Bob Beatty this morning and he isn't ready to reveal his starter for the evening. So you'll have to wait until warm-ups for that little update. I'll get it up on Twitter as soon as I know. Both Alex Rajotte and Myles Hovdebo have had their serious ups and downs in the early parts of this season. Both have allowed seven goals in a game, and both had good bounce back efforts after those starts. Bob Beatty isn't concerned with his goaltending, and I don't think he should be. In the games that got out of hand, though I'm sure both goalies would like some goals back, they also prevented it from being much worse on the scoreboard.
On the back-end, Scott Helmkay should be ready to go soon, I don't know about tonight or this weekend, but soon. David Greyeyes missed the contest in the Battlefords after hitting his head on the ice in Kindersley. The team is being cautious with Greyeyes and with his history, that's what you want to see. Still not sure if he'll dress tonight. The Wolves defenders have, like the goalies, had their ups and downs in the first six games. That said, as everyone adjusts to their rolls on the team and gets used to the SJHL game, defence won't be a problem for this team. So that's 2/3 facets of the game that shouldn't be too problematic. The third is offence, and yeah, that has been a problem.
I could probably just copy and paste some past posts into this part, because the Wolves just can't figure out a way to put the puck in the net. There's scoring talent in the lineup, though it's certainly not as plentiful as last year and maybe not as apparent as some of the other teams in the SJHL. However, the puck just won't go in. Skyler Hladun has had a lot of chances and hasn't been able to get clean shots. Marc-Andre Carre has been snuggled into a blanket of two or three defenders whenever he touches the puck. Jordan Ethier is still looking for that scoring touch along with Aaron Enns. Right now the Wolves need some kind of break. The adage is, "you have to earn your breaks," the Ice Wolves certainly did enough to warrant one against the Battlefords, alas, Graham Hildebrand got hot and shut them out. Coach Beatty says offence was the major focus of practice (I'd be worried if it wasn't) and I'm genuinely curious to see what the Wolves attack looks like this weekend.
A couple of things to keep your eye on.
How does the breakout perform? The Wolves keep getting hemmed in their own zone and generating offensive push through neutral ice has been a chore. If they can sort out these issues, it will go a long way to improving the team in goals for and against.
Are players in the slot and in front of the net? Something I noticed on the road trip was the insistence of the Wolves to take the puck to the boards and keep it there. They would be look for a play out front, but everyone was along the boards. Possibly a side effect of former third and fourth line players moving into scoring roles?
Players to Watch
Jordan Ethier (F) - It was hoped Ethier would bring some offensive punch to the Wolves lineup after the departure of so many point producers. It hasn't happened yet, and the Wolves need him to get rolling.
Aaron Enns (F) - Ethier's linemate hasn't had much luck in the scoring department either. One of the Wolves leaders who knows what it takes to win will have to be an example on the ice.
Ben Bula (D) - Has been emerging as a leader on and off the ice for the Wolves. Bula hasn't ever been afraid to speak his thoughts (calling Sterling Bear a baby on a radio broadcast last season comes to mind) and now he's becoming one of the vocal presences on a team that needs some inspiration right now.
Jeremy Johnson (F) - He's already come up in this post as a player to keep an eye on. The SJHL rookie hasn't shown any signs of needing to adjust to the SJHL. The Terriers are expecting a lot from him and Johnson has responded.
Warren Shymko (G) - There have been a lot of questions about the league's goaltending, and not exempt are the Terriers. Shymko proved himself capable last season filling in for Devin Peters, but now he's looked at to provide the same stability. Will he be able to fill some very big shoes?
Kyle McLeod (F) - He's already almost halfway to last season's point total (12) with five points in four games. As one of the Terriers who was apart of last season's Sherwood Conference Championship squad, I'm sure he'll be looking for some measure of payback tonight.
Make no mistake, this is a huge game tonight for the Ice Wolves. They were shown their errors in spectacular fashion last week and had the time to work on them. Now, they have to apply it into tonight's game, under last year's championship banner and make a statement. The question is, with a Yorkton team in the house that will be feeling that sting of Game 7 very freshly, what will that statement be?
In theory, I'll have the game on the webcast tonight for audio/visual experience. Once again, I'll be joined (in theory) by Curtis "the Burbot" Skalicky on colour as we bring you the action on the new web streaming service (http://sjhl.neulion.com/sjhl/). The cast will start just ahead of the banner raising, which should happen around 7:20 or 7:25.
Enjoy the games, and I'll break it all down on Monday. Have a great weekend!