The Ice Wolves play their first home game of 2011 tonight against the Humboldt Broncos.  The situation is a little different from the last time these teams met back in early November.  

The high flying Broncos had just hit a small stumbling block with a couple of recent losses when the Wolves knocked them down 5-1 on home ice.  It turned out the small stumble was a full fall as the Broncos dropped like a rock in the standings and now sit nine points back of the Ice Wolves for top spot in the Bauer.  

Now the Ice Wolves, who have been steady all season, need a win over the Broncos tonight to put distance between themselves and the Melfort Mustangs at the top of the Conference.

Read on for my preview of tonight's game.
The Ice Wolves are undefeated in 2011, mainly due to the fact they've only played one game, and a solid one at that, against Flin Flon this year.  The Broncos are also perfect in the SJHL for 2011, but that's because they have yet to play a game. (They lost to Team Sweden on New Years Day)  So the Wolves may have a step on the Broncos, but the good thing for Humboldt is, like La Ronge, they had the chance to sweat out the gravy against the Swedes.

The Broncos are a team kind of in Limbo right now.  Third in the Bauer Conference, 5 back of Melfort, 5 ahead of Flin Flon, 9 back of La Ronge and 10 ahead of Nipawin.  Almost perfectly in the middle of the conference.  The question for Humboldt becomes are you buyers or sellers in the next week?  They have some great pieces on the team to make a run for a Credit Union Cup, but they also have to think about next season when they host the RBC Cup.  So this next week leading up to the deadline will be very telling for the rest of the Broncos' season.

The Ice Wolves are decidedly not in Limbo, great veteran core and a solid group of guys returning next season.  Looking at the standings, the Ice Wolves are getting close to not necessarily  a mathematical clinching of a top three spot but at least a tough position to fall out of.  That being said, they need to keep on winning.

The Wolves have been the measure of consistency this season.  They haven't gone on any huge winning or losing streaks.  For the most part they've followed about a win three lose one kind of pace.  That's well demonstrated in their .694 points percentage this season.

Looking to what will go down on the ice tonight, the teams split their first two meetings of the season.  The Broncos came away with a strong win in the first week of the season, while the Ice Wolves had that 5-1 victory in November.  Adam Bartko was a key piece of both of those games.  He was pulled in the first meeting and was one of the stars of the second.

It'll be Hrynkiw or Bodnarchuck in net for the Broncos.  Like the rest of their team, both goalies strong starts have floundered and neither has looked especially spectacular in the last month or so.

When you talk about a game between these two teams it's impossible to ignore the scoring power available to both sides.  Tonights match-up features the top five scorers in the SJHL.  Here's how they run down:

1. Doug Lindensmith - LR - 24 G, 45 A - 69 Pts
2. Marc Andre-Carre - LR - 27 G, 41 A - 68 Pts
3. Travis Eggum - LR - 34 G, 31 A - 65 Pts
4. Justin Buzzeo - HUM - 23 G - 33 A - 56 Pts
5. Jeremy Boyer - HUM - 28 G - 27 A - 55 Pts

Those guys are also 5 of the top six goal scorers in the league.  So if you haven't figured out what you're doing tonight, head to the game if you're in La Ronge and watch it online if you're not.  No matter how the game turns out, odds are you're going to see something dazzling.

Okay, let's crunch the numbers shall we?
                  Ice Wolves                                 vs                                      Broncos
            (24-10-0-2 - 50 pts)                Record                     (20-15-0-1 - 36 pts)
                  1st in Bauer                          Standing                          3rd in Bauer
                       26.0%                                    PP%                                   25.5%
                        78.9%                                   PK%                                   83.8%  

Notes:

Ice Wolves Head Coach Bob Beatty will still be absent.  He'll be back soon though as Team Canada West had a rough go of it at the World U17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg.

Seems like there's always something point-streakish going on with the Wolves.  Marc-Andre Carre looks to be the first to reach the 20 game plateau tonight.  The other two players to reach 19 games are going to be on the ice tonight, Buzzeo and Lindensmith.

Travis Eggum put up two goals against Flin Flon to bring him to 34 on the season.  That's 2 less than last year's goal scoring champs Andrew Dommett (KK) and Travis Janke (ND).  His goals per game is also 0.94, putting him on pace for over 50 goals on the season.

The Broncos are pretty special when it comes to special teams.  They sit first in the league on the penalty kill (83.8%) and second on the powerplay (25.5%).

Jeremy Boyer is good at putting teams away.  He's tied with Clarke Breitkreuz for the league lead in insurance goals with 5 on the season.

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