Once again, I find myself writing for this blog on the bus, headed to or from the Ice Wolves’ latest road destination. Through the Wolves first eleven games, seven of those have been away from the Mel, and it’s about to become eleven of fifteen. Yes, the Wolves have a pretty harsh travel schedule in the early going, not quite the ideal situation for a squad still struggling to find consistency on a nightly basis. While that tends to be the issue for many Junior hockey teams in the early going, the Wolves have been particularly Jekyll and Hyde-ish.
The Ice Wolves appeared to turn the corner on a three game homestand that saw the Wolves only allow four goals in three games and score thirteen of their own. Then Thanksgiving weekend left the Wolves wondering what went wrong as they fell by 9-5 and 6-2 scores to the Flin Flon Bombers.
Having lost six in a row on the road (they lost 6 in regulation all last season) the Wolves head on another 4 in 5 night trip starting tonight in Humboldt and wrapping up in Estevan with the Showcase. The trip includes two games against Notre Dame and one against the Hawks. Tonight’s contest is an important one for the Wolves up against a team that dominated them thoroughly in their last outing. It’s a chance for a little redemption for the Wolves, but more importantly, to pick up a W on the road which hasn’t been an easy task.
Name almost every facet of the game, and the Broncos probably took it in the first meeting between Humboldt and La Ronge. It was a good night for the Broncos, and easily the worst this season for the Ice Wolves. I said it that night, and I stand by it, despite that horrific 7-1 score, the Wolves have the ability to be competitive with the Broncos and it lies in the one area I felt the Wolves held some control a few weeks ago.
The Wolves are a grind it out, physical team, that’s what other teams are expecting and it’s what Bob Beatty expects from his crew every night. When they are hard on the puck along the boards, finishing checks and really just hitting everything that moves, they are a very effective team. The Wolves did that for about five minutes in last time out and they took control right away from the Broncos. Sustaining that kind of effort for a full sixty minutes will be absolutely key for any victory this season, but especially against a high octane group like Humboldt.
Plus minus will once again be a focus for lines that have seen far too much rubber going into the net on their watch. For a team that should be looking defence first, there were sure a lot of missed defensive assignments in Flin Flon which didn’t make their job any easier. Attentiveness to the defensive zone is going to be something to keep an eye on this trip.
On the Broncos side, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows either. The RBC Hosts have surprised everyone by going a pedestrian 5-and-5 through their first ten contests. They’ve been scoring plenty of goals, but keeping the puck out of the net has been a problem. That offence is led by Andrew Johnston and Robbie Ciolfi. Bombers play-by-play man, Rob Hart, says the Johnston trade was a great thing for Flin Flon because it forced players to step up. Seems like it’s working well for Johnston as well as he’s got 16 points through ten games. Maybe a little behind the 100 point pace Johnston says he wants to be at, but definitely good enough for fourth in SJHL scoring. Ciolfi sits right behind him after being named the SJHL’s player of the week. He was dynamite during the playoffs last season and seems to have carried that over to the Broncos. He and Johnston on a line is a scary and very effective combination.
About those pucks going in the net... obviously the defence has to be strong, but it helps if you add a goalie who went 11-and-5 with a 2.89 GAA and .908 Sv% in the WHL last year. What a happy coincidence for the Broncos that Deven Dubyk has arrived in Humboldt with that exact statline from last season with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Dubyk gives the Broncos an elite level goaltender to backstop what is shaping up to be an elite level team. He’s got one SJHL contest under his belt this season and was solid in that.
The Wolves certainly have their work cut out for them on this week’s trip. They face four tough teams without a lot of time to rest, but even if they can come away from this trip with a 2-2 record, I think it’s something Coach Beatty would be happy with.
I’ll have the broadcast of tonight’s game, starting at 7:15 with the pre-game show and puck drop shortly thereafter at 7:30.