Before I hit the Ice Wolves and Hawks games, I would just like to take a moment to express my sadness that Peter Forsberg had to hang 'em up. I was all excited to watch the Flames/Avs game Tuesday when I found out. One of the best and most dominant players to play in the NHL, and taken out by injuries.
The comeback would have been nice, but that foot just wasn't cooperating. To all those that compare him to Brett Farve, stand in a nice big line so I can get in a car and just drive by slap all of you. Yes, I'm very creative in my punishments for foolishness.
Moving along from the crushing of my dreams, the Wolves head into this game with the Hawks having clinched first overall and about two weeks off once they wrap up the regular season. They're coming off a six day break and how they play tonight could be very telling. Especially based on their opponent.
The Nipawin Hawks are firmly buried in last place in the SJHL. It has been a tumultuous season for Doug Johnson's locker room. The decent start followed shortly by months of futility, followed by a month of brilliance that brought them back into the playoff picture. Had the stars not all been moved at the deadline, I think Nipawin would have made the post season. Johnson has the long term success of this team at heart, and made a bunch of deals to ensure that success.
Now the Hawks players are fighting for spots for next season and trying to develop an identity with their few remaining games. The Ice Wolves will help determine the outcome of this game, big time. I don't want to disrespect the Hawks, but there just isn't a lot of firepower on the Nipawin squad any more and it is a "should win" for the Wolves.
Here are the pitfalls for La Ronge. It's after a break, they could be rusty, and it's a team that hasn't exactly been tearing it up of late (0-9-0-1 in last 10). It's easy to take a team that has less than half the points on the season that you do for granted. If the Wolves don't play their game and quite frankly, don't come to play, they could find themselves on the wrong end of a deficit to the last placed team in the league.
This is also the starting point. The momentum from the current nine game winning streak has undoubtedly cooled after almost a week off. A good start against the Hawks will be huge leading into the Wolves meeting with Melfort on Wednesday. Bob Beatty has been constantly frustrated by the Ice Wolves sluggish starts this season. It's something the Pack needs to remedy before they hit the post-season, because if you're getting behind in the playoffs too often, you won't be there too long.
Like the standard cliché goes "take it one game at a time." That, ironically enough, is what the Wolves need to do to be successful on this road trip. If they look ahead to Melfort, they could find themselves down to Nipawin. If they're past Melfort in whatever form and feeling successful or not so, the road trip keeps going, they haven't hit the playoffs yet, and now must play in Yorkton. Melville, the end of the trip always a tough one, got to stay focused and finish strong.
The Hawks may be down right now, but as I've been shown quite often in my first season in the SJHL, any team can beat any team on any night. Doesn't matter who you lost to, a loss is a loss. So, message to the boys, don't take the Hawks lightly!
On the injury front. I spoke with Coach Beatty this morning, and it is unlikely the four players out with injuries (Belanger, Cliche, Ducharme and Cook) will be in the lineup at least for the start of the road trip. Coach Beatty thinks it would be irresponsible to play anyone ahead of their time having clinched first in the league. So it is unlikely we will see any of them before the conference semi-finals.
The Ice Wolves brought in an AP to fill in one of the gaps at forward. Eric Ditto will be playing with the Wolves on the road trip. Ditto, 19, led the PJHL in scoring this season (40 GP, 34 G, 49 A) and in 108 games in the PJHL, he has 165 points. Coach Beatty also said there may be as many as two forwards playing defence on the trip. Whether that means in the same game or alternating games on the back end, I don't know. Probably the latter.
In net, it will probably be an alternating run down the last five games. My guess is Hovdebo against Nipawin and Melville while Bartko gets Melfort and Yorkton. Humboldt is anyone's guess with how they've been playing. It may be Bartko just to get in one last start before that long break.
Ice Wolves vs Hawks
(39-12-0-2 - 80 pts) Record (16-32-3-2 - 37 pts)
1st in Bauer Standing 6th in Bauer
25.2% PP% 16.7%
79.2% PK% 76.6%
Marc-Andre Carre and Travis Eggum need a mere three points to break the Ice Wolves' franchise points record. (99 pts - Justin Rohr)
Because of the trades involving 20 year olds, the Hawks only have three players with over 10 goals. (Lichtenwald - 20, Dusyk - 17, Cole 11)
Myles Hovdebo will likely get the start for La Ronge. He comes in with 13 wins on the season, ranked 12th in the league in that department. If Hovdebo had enough minutes (needs 1080, has 928) he would be ranked 3rd in GAA (2.65) and 2nd in save percentage (0.918).
The Big Three on La Ronge have been unreal this season. Along with Carre and Eggum's 97 points, Doug Lindensmith has 91 points giving the Wolves three players over that 90 point mark. Three with 30+ goals (52, 36, 30) and two with 60+ assists (61, 60).
Travis Eggum has been pretty clutch for La Ronge. He leads the league in game winning goals with nine. I guess when you put nearly one in per game, odds are you'll have a few of those be game winners.
Stephen Klein has performed decently against the Ice Wolves this season, he has a record of one and one. In the first game he put on a show, beating the Wolves 3-2. In the second game, he lost 6-1, but that was for no lack of heroics. Could be the seventeen year old will get another crack at La Ronge.
The Hawks last ten games have been almost a perfect mirror of the Ice Wolves. La Ronge has won 9 and lost one, while the Hawks have lost ten, one of those coming in overtime.
Doug Lindensmith has enjoyed his time against the Hawks this season. In 5 games, he's racked up a very impressive 12 points (3 G, 9 A).
How many points will lead the Ice Wolves this season?
95-100: 3 Votes
101-105: 9 Votes
106-110: 5 Votes
111+: 0 Votes
I'm always up for reader participation, so if you have a question you think would be good for the poll, send it to me through the 'contact' page!
I'll have the pre-game show from Nipawin starting at 7:15 with the puck going down at 7:30. Kinersley Klipper scout, Lorne Hill will be with me for colour commentary at the Cage. Looking forward to it!
Enjoy the game!