Wins and losses of course. Why? What did you think I was talking about? Yes, tonight's contest features two teams on streaks and firmly headed in opposite directions on said streaks.
The Melville Millionaires have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde situation this year. Streaks up and streaks down have characterized the Mills who face a down swing at the moment. The additions of goalie
Blake Voth and forward, Russell Trudeau really seemed to get things turned around for Melville who limped out of the gate. Now, Jamie Fiesel's crew has lost five in a row and lost much of the ground they fought so hard to gain
The Ice wolves roll in winners of 8 in their last eleven and points in ten of those games. They're looking more and more like a team that can defend their title, though there's definitely plenty of work to be done. The great thing about the Ice Wolves right now is the contributions are coming from everyone. Best example is last game, when the Ice Wolves big guns were held off the scoresheet. Pat Tran scored two goals to get the Wolves rolling and Nathan Boyer, who continues to heat up, grabbed three points. The Wolves aren't searching for someone to step up every night any more. It's more of a situation of a player just doing it.
With the Millionaires in La Ronge, it will be Ice Wolves fans first chance to see Russell Trudeau in action. From all accounts, the kid is dynamite and he has the stats to back it up with 25 points in 14 games. It doesn't stop there, though. The Mills feature plenty of offensive talent beyond Trudeau. Jesse Mireau and Ian McNulty are plenty dangerous with the puck and there's fair enough secondary scoring on the team if all resources are spent trying to take care of the top line. McNulty is one of the league's surprise stories this season. Why? Because he has as many goals in 30 games as he had points in 46 games last season. He's second in the league in assists and you can credit a lot of the Mills wins to his offensive improvement. Mireau hasn't played for Melville since their December 2nd contest against the Battlefords, so that could be a big piece missing for for the Mills.
Update: Looks like the Mills will likely be without Mireau for tonight as well as forward T.J. Reeve.
The Melville blue-line is happy to chip in offensively with Tyson Newell sitting third on the team's scoring list and Lee Christensen rolling at 0.78 points per game. The Millionaires feature a pretty experience group of defenders with four '91's on the roster. Some good size as well with only one player under 5'10. They're sure to occupy some skating room at the Mel, and there really wasn't a whole ton to begin with.
Blake Voth and Alex Wakaluk are splitting starts 50/50 at the moment. Both feature respectable numbers as a major concern for Melville at the beginning of the season seems to have evened out. If the rotation holds the starter tonight will be *drumroll* Alex Wakaluk. Naturally Jamie Fiesel will swap it just to make sure I get it wrong, but it's nice to at least believe I know the Mills' starter for a little while. Really when it comes down to it, the Wolves will have their hands full beating whoever's guarding the pipes this weekend.
A couple of roster notes up front for the Ice Wolves. Aaron Enns who was battling a minor upper body injury Tuesday will likely be ready to get back in the lineup. Brennan Wright (6'3, 200), however, will not. I get the impression he likely won't play this weekend. At which point signs start to point to Wright being out with some sort of injury and it isn't a 'getting on the same page' thing. Bob Beatty hasn't hesitated to get newcomers like Wilson Dumais, Brennan Ritchie or Zac Ashdown into the fold. So the question becomes, how serious is it and how long will he be out?
With Enns back in the lineup the carousel that was Tuesday's game will thankfully stop and the Wolves will get some congruency in their lineup for a full sixty. Expect the Iron/Tran/Dumais line to stick together as they were very effective against Nipawin. Figuring out the Wolves lineup has been tough these days as the Wolves work through different combinations. I would expect a return to Carre/Hladun/Boyer along with Enns/Smerek/Ashdown, but those lines have been known to cross-over even when set.
Brennan Ritchie continues to impress with his play on the back end. He was in every facet of the game on Tuesday, a gorgeous assist, a big hit at the blue line, and he brings confidence with the puck even under pressure. The Vandenameele/Sawyer pairing continues to be one of my favourites. The two play very well off each other in a pairing that had its beginnings back in training camp. Bob Beatty isn't afraid to toss any pairing out at any time of the game and it's tough to see a definite number one pairing. A very balanced blue line.
Coach Beatty hadn't puzzled out his goaltending rotation for the weekend. It's all but assured both Alex Rajotte and Myles Hovdebo will get starts this weekend (barring any violent illness). The question is the order. It basically comes down to momentum versus who gives you the best chance to win at the JRMCC, where the Ice Wolves tend to struggle a touch.
It should be an entertaining weekend with two teams that can showcase some great offensive talents and I expect the shot clock with be busy tonight at the Mel.
Curtis and I will have tonight's webcast starting at the usual
five-ish minutes before puck drop. Tomorrow night, there's no cast as the game's at the JRMCC so it will be another Live Blog night. There won't be another radio station in the building Saturday so the Blog will be the only way to follow along in real time. Think up some good questions and I'll try my best to answer them throughout the night.
Talk to you Saturday!