It started all the way back on September 17th against the Nipawin Hawks.  I had been in La Ronge for a little less than 48 hours and had just finished moving into my new place.  The Ice Wolves won 5-3 against the Hawks beginning what I doubt anybody could have ever suspected.  

Coming into tonight, the Ice Wolves have eight wins more than anybody else, and their total losses (regulation and OT/SO) are less than anybody else's regulation losses.  The Wolves have broken numerous franchise records (wins, standings points, wins by a goaltender, goals, assists, career assists, points, etc.) and are poised to make a run at another SJHL Championship.  All of this after their improbable win last season.

While the Regular Season has been a complete success, the Wolves know they are just getting started.  Bob Beatty has said multiple times that a team is judged on its success in the playoffs, which is completely true.  Now the Wolves are down to one game in this fantastic regular season, and it's a rescheduled game all the way from late September against the Humboldt Broncos.

Read on for my preview of tonight's game.

The Ice Wolves took advantage of the Broncos right after the trade deadline when Humboldt moved out most of its veteran core.  Though the Broncos played very well, they were a little disorganized at times and were clearly a team trying to find an identity and sort itself out.  

They've taken care of that rather quickly and got everything pointed in the right direction.  Now they have people around the league pointing at their series with Melfort as a possible upset that could see the Broncos on their way to the league final.  With strong goaltending and a good, physical work ethic, who's to say they can't pull it off?  They have both.

After a tough go of it this season, Andrew Bodnarchuk is showing Coach Dean Brockman what he expected to see this season.  If Bodnarchuk gets on a roll heading into the post season, it could be a long series for Melfort's scorers.  That being said, it is a toss up on who the Wolves will see in net tonight.  If Brockman is happy with what Bodnarchuk has been doing of late, he might hold the goalie to the bench to make sure he doesn't get injured.  I think, though, we will see both number 1's tonight as Coaches Beatty and Brockman will hope to get their goalies in one more game before a long break.

Talking to Coach Beatty today, he is impressed by the work ethic of the Broncos.  Beatty is a fan of lunch-bucket teams, and since the trades, the Broncos are certainly that.  They feature a lot of big bodies that can grind it out on the corners and create offence down low.  They also have the option of working to the points where the puck will find its way to Josh Roach.  The eighteen year old defenceman leads all SJHL blue liners with 48 points (14 G, 28 A) on the season with four of those points coming in four games with the Ice Wolves.

On the home side, all eyes will be on the SJHL's leading scorers.  Coming into the game, Travis Eggum and Marc-Andre Carre are tied for the lead in points with 106.  Their linemate, Doug Lindensmith sits 2 shy of 100 on the season.  Unfortunately, Lindensmith, who led the SJHL in scoring for most of the season, will not crack the century mark.  He was injured against Melville and will be out of the lineup tonight.  It's a real shame that he will fall short of the mark, but Lindensmith, I'm sure would sacrifice the two points if it will he can be healthy and help the team in the playoffs.

Back to Eggum and Carre.  Hopefully by the end of the night, we will be able to crown the SJHL scoring leader, but seeing as they tend to assist on eachother's points... that may be tough.  If you look at the stats, though, Carre has his points in three fewer games than Eggum.  Marc-Andre is one shy of 40 goals for the season, which would be a nice mark to hit in his second year in the league.  Everyone at the Mel will hope to see the goals come from Eggum though.  He only needs two more to reach the spectacular mark of 60 on the season.  The stats are there from the previous meetings... in five games against Humboldt, Eggum has nine goals.

If those clamouring for an upset get their wish and Humboldt gets by Melfort, and the Ice Wolves do their job and take care of the 4th or 5th seed, tonight's game will be the last chance for either team to establish themselves.  Look for the squads to play this one with a playoff atmosphere.

The Ice Wolves head into this one with a depleted crew.  With Cook, Ducharme, Cliche, Vandenameele and Lindensmith out and Verrett not dressing to save his final games Jr. B card games for the playoffs, the Wolves send out a less than full roster.  It sounds like Phil Belanger will make his return after suffering a concussion against Flin Flon a couple weeks ago, which is good news for the team.  I'm glad to see that it was only a minor concussion.  The Wolves won't have any AP's as Midget AAA playoffs begin tonight.

So the lines may look something like this for La Ronge.

Dieno-Carre-Eggum                                Fossum-Belanger
Enns-Herauf-Boyer                                 Sorenson-Keller
Smerek-Souchotte-Piller                      Bula-Monfore

That's at least a prediction.  Talking to Coach Beatty; it seems Keller and Enns will both see time on the point, and the lines will rotate.  As good a solution as any when you're facing the depleted corps like the Ice Wolves.

                  Ice Wolves                                 vs                                    Broncos
            (42-13-0-2 - 86 pts)                 Record                   (31-25-0-1 - 74 pts)
                  1st in Bauer                          Standing                        3rd in Bauer
                       26.2%                                    PP%                                  26.2%
                        79.1%                                   PK%                                  82.8%  

Barring an eight point night by Johnny Calkins (KK), the Ice Wolves will finish the season with the top three scorers in the league.  Eggum (106), Carre (106) and Lindensmith (98).  The last time a team featured the top three scorers in the league was in the 98-99 season, Kevin Doell of Melfort had 141 points to lead the league followed by Mustang teammates Scott Markowsky and Martin Paquet with 128 and 115 respectively.

Coincidentally, that was also the last time the league featured a 60 goal scorer.   Kevin Marushak of Kindersley did it in the 98-99 season. 2nd in goals that year, with 57, was Melville Millionaire and current NHL'er Chris Kunitz at 57.

In that '98-'99 season, teams played 66 games.  The last player to lead the league in goals AND average at least 1.00 goals per game, was Devin Edgerton all the way back in the 1990-'91 season.  Eggum already has that stat sewn up.  To better Edgerton's 71 in 67 (1.0597 GpG), Eggum will need a hat-trick tonight to go up to 61 in 58.

The Ice Wolves own the best overall goal differential in the league with a +89.

This game features the best powerplays in the league.  Tied for first, the Ice Wolves and Broncos strike on 26.2% of their man advantages.

Broncos netminder, Andrew Bodnarchuk hasn't enjoyed his 100+ minutes against the Ice Wolves.  In his two games played, Bodnarchuck has allowed 11 goals and has a save percentage of 0.841.  

For the Ice Wolves, Adam Bartko hasn't faired much better.  In three games played, Bartko has allowed ten goals and sits with a save percentage of 0.867.
I'll have the final Ice Wolves webcast of the season for you starting shortly before puck drop.  My colour commentator is still a mystery with Curtis still down in Florida.  He texted me a funny story from Disneyworld that hopefully he will get to tell when he gets back during the playoffs.

Enjoy the game!

Poll Results

Question: Who will the Ice Wolves face in the Bauer Conference Semi-Finals?

Flin Flon Bombers - 4 Votes - 20%
Battlefords North Stars - 10 Votes - 50%
A Very Tired and Beat Up Bauer Conference Team - 6 Votes - 30%

My Take

First, I guess I don't have too many readers from Flin Flon, or at least too many poll question answerers.  Or, they're just being very impartial and honest.  Who knows?  Regardless I have to agree with the majority on this one.  P.J. Musico has the ability to steal some games, and in a five game series, maybe that's all the Bombers need.  However, I think the scoring punch of the North Stars will be too much, especially if one of their goalies can pull it together for the series.

For the six voters saying this is going to be a battle, I couldn't agree more.  Hopefully we don't see any injuries or dirty stuff in the series, but a certain level of disdain for each other always makes a series that much more interesting.  It's also fun that no matter what team comes out, they have a pretty good rivalry with the Ice Wolves.

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