Previewing the SJHL final

Lucas Punkari

The two teams that will be playing for the Canalta Cup have taken differing paths to reach Friday’s series opener.

For the Battlefords North Stars, it’s been a walk in the park so far through the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs, as they swept aside the Weyburn Red Wings and Estevan Bruins.

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Meanwhile, the Flin Flon Bombers had to claw their way back from a 3-1 deficit against the Nipawin Hawks before picking up a huge 3-0 win on home ice Tuesday in the first Game 7 at the Whitney Forum since 1974.

Before I make my sure to be wrong prediction for which team will end a long title drought in the coming days, let’s take a quick look at the two sides that just missed out on making it to the league final.

4) Estevan Bruins – 37-18-2-1 – 1st in Viterra Division – Lost 4-0 to Battlefords in Semifinal

Having been knocked out early in last year’s playoffs and going winless as the hosts of the Western Canada Cup, to see the Bruins bounce back with a division title and their first trip to the semifinals since 2005 was rather impressive.

As was documented throughout the campaign, the Bruins could score a ton of goals but also could allow the puck to go into the back of their own net, which proved to be a tough task to come back from against the North Stars.

Although they will be losing leading scorers Matt McNeil and Jason Miller, captain Lynnden Pastachak and future North Dakota Fighting Hawks blueliner Josh Rieger to graduation, the Bruins will still have a number of key weapons.

That’s especially true on offence, as Kaelan Holt, Zach Goberis, Jake Fletcher and Hayden Guilderson can all come back for their final seasons of junior hockey. Another player to keep an eye out for is SJHL rookie of the year finalist Michael McChesney, who led the Bruins in post-season scoring with nine points in nine game.

Losing the veteran presence of Rieger and the hulking Evan Scott will be tough, but almost of the blueline can return and a guy like Johnny Witzke should have a solid sophomore campaign.

With Nathan Alalouf also graduating, the starting goaltending role looks set to go to Curtis Meger. However, keep an eye out for affiliated player Matthew Lenz, who put up a sparkling 1.89 goals against average with the Moose Jaw Generals of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League this season.  

3) Nipawin Hawks – 40-15-2-1 – 2nd in Sherwood Division – Lost 4-3 to Flin Flon in Semifinal

For the second year in a row, the Hawks were knocked out in the seventh and deciding game of a semifinal series, having lost to the Melfort Mustangs last season in a tightly contested battle.

This defeat, however, might be tougher to take as they had their division rivals down 3-1 but were unable to punch their ticket to the league final for the first time since 2001.

While I’m sure the finish is a tough pill to swallow, this was still an impressive season for the Hawks as they raced up the standings in the second half of the campaign and became a legit title threat.

Much of that has to do with the offensive firepower that was added in the second half, with Josh Bly being acquired from the Kindersley Klippers, Eric Bolden coming back to the Hawks from Elmira College in the NCAA Division III ranks, Keegan Milligan joining the squad after a trade with the Melville Millionaires and Brandan Arnold playing in a brief but effective role in between stints with the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos.

There of those additions (Bly, Bolden and Milligan) are all leaving the Hawks along with veteran forward Keegan Kjargaard, but the Hawks can still have a ton of firepower on their roster when the 2017-18 season begins.

Leading scorer Brett Harasymuk, Michael Grant, Tanner Thompson and Grant Baetsen all cracked the 40-point plateau, and Arnold should be another effective piece to that group if he comes back.

The biggest loss though will be in between the pipes, as SJHL goaltender of the year and most valuable award winner Kristian Stead will be moving on to the NCAA’s Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves.

It does look like the Hawks already have their replacement for Stead lined up in Declan Hobbs, who had a 1.94 goals against average in 13 games after starting the year with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice.

Alright, that’s enough dilly-dallying. Let’s get to the finals and who I have winning it all.

1) Battlefords North Stars vs. 2) Flin Flon Bombers

Last Playoff Meeting: 2016 Semifinal (Flin Flon won 4-1 – Battlefords last defeated Flin Flon 4-1 in 2006 Semifinal)

Finals History:

Battlefords: 1-4 (Won in 2000 over Weyburn – Lost in 1995 to Weyburn, 1997 to Weyburn, 2005 to Yorkton and 2006 to Yorkton)

Flin Flon: 1-1 (Won in 1993 over Melville – Lost in 2016 to Melfort)

Season Series: Battlefords 3-1 (Battlefords outscored Flin Flon 12-9)

Season Series Scoring Leader:

Battlefords – Layne Young – 5 points

Flin Flon – Dondre Watson (later traded to the AJHL’s Canmore Eagles) – 4 points (Braden Lacoursiere, Nick Shumlanski and Rylee Zimmer all had 3 points)

Season Series Goaltending Leader:

Battlefords – Taryn Kotchorek – 2-0 record with a 2.24 goals against average (Joel Grzybowski had a 1-1 record with a 2.22 goals against average)

Flin Flon – Zac Robidoux – 1-2 record with a 2.64 goals against average (Brenden Newton was 0-1 with a 2.11 goals against average)

Prediction: Battlefords in six

Full disclosure, this is a bit of a change from a blog post I had way back at the start of the year where I had the Bombers ahead of the North Stars in my pre-season power rankings (I also had Melfort in third and Nipawin in 11th, so you shouldn’t really put that much stock into them).

So why did I go with the North Stars? Well for starters, seeing that this is being published in a North Battleford news paper, I’d like to keep on living here.

Secondly, if you look at how the North Stars have played through the playoffs, especially when it comes to their offence with the dynamic duo of Coby Downs and Layne Young putting a combined 38 points in eight games, they are looking to be rolling on all cylinders.

Now granted, they have been without blueliners Kendall Fransoo and Zach Nedelec for most of the post-season, and the goaltending hasn’t been quite as sharp on some nights as it had been in the regular season, but the North Stars have done a good job of adapting to those challenges and having different guys step up.

With that said, discount the Bombers are your own peril. After all, they beat the North Stars a year ago in the semifinals, have the experience of playing for a league championship after a six-game battle with the Mustangs last spring and they just rattled off three straight wins over the Hawks to get to the finals once again.

A huge part in that comeback in the semifinals was the play of Brendan Newton, who took over in goal from Zac Robidoux in Game 4 against the Hawks. So far in the playoffs, he’s compiled a 3-1 record with a 1.14 goals against average and a .965 save percentage.

Newton’s familiar with strong playoff performances. In his rookie campaign last year he had a 7-3 record and a 2.40 goals against average as the Bombers made it to the finals for the first time since 1993.

When it comes to the offence, Greyson Reitmeier, Rylee Zimmer and Kristian St. Onge have all cracked double digits so far, while two-time SJHL defenceman of the year winner Eric Sinclair is having another excellent post-season with 12 points in 12 games as he looks to win a third straight league title after picking up two straight crowns with the Mustangs.

All in all, this should be a dandy of a final. If it ends up going less than six games, my jaw will be on the floor.

CJHL Finalists Stats

Seeing that the championship series are now underway in all 10 Junior A leagues across Canada, I figured this would be a good time to see where the Bombers and North Stars stack up compared to the rest of the pack. This allowed me to use my poor math skills, but I digress.

A couple of quick notes here. Firstly, the two SIJHL finalists (the Dryden Ice Dogs and French River Miners) have only played one playoff round so their stats are a bit askew compared to the others. Also, these stats were done prior to the MJHL final getting underway, which currently sees the OCN Blizzard holding a 2-0 lead over the Portage Terriers heading to Game 3 Thursday night.

Also of note, the North Stars are one of four teams to have a perfect record heading into the finals. The MHL’s Miramichi Timberwolves and the NOJHL’s Powassan Voodos both share the 8-0 mark the North Stars currently have, while the Ice Dogs are 4-0 at the moment.

Goals Per Game

1.       Longueuil College Francais – 6.55

2.       Brooks Bandits – 6.22

3.       Battlefords North Stars – 5.87

4.       Miramichi Timberwolves – 5.62

5.       Powassan Voodoos – 5.62

6.       Terrebonne Cobras – 5.45

7.       Dryden Ice Dogs – 5.00

8.       English River Miners – 4.40

9.       Georgetown Raiders – 4.06

10.   Truro Bearcats – 4.00

11.   Carleton Place Canadians – 3.81

12.   Whitecourt Wolverines – 3.75

13.   Chilliwack Chiefs – 3.68

14.   Trenton Golden Hawks – 3.35

15.   OCN Blizzard – 3.33

16.   Portage Terriers – 3.33

17.   Blind River Beavers – 3.16

18.   Ottawa Jr. Senators – 3.00

19.   Flin Flon Bombers – 2.83

20.   Penticton Vees – 2.78

Goals Against Per Game

1.       Brooks Bandits – 1.33

2.       Trenton Golden Hawks – 1.50

3.       OCN Blizzard – 1.55

4.       Ottawa Jr. Senators – 1.55

5.       Miramichi Timberwolves – 1.62

6.       Dryden Ice Dogs – 1.75

7.       Powassan Voodoos – 1.75

8.       Longueuil College Francais – 1.77

9.       Flin Flon Bombers – 2.00

10.   Carleton Place Canadians – 2.09

11.   Whitecourt Wolverines – 2.12

12.   Portage Terriers – 2.16

13.   Chilliwack Chiefs – 2.18

14.   Battlefords North Stars – 2.25

15.   Blind River Beavers – 2.25

16.   Georgetown Raiders – 2.26

17.   Truro Bearcats – 2.30

18.   Penticton Vees – 2.50

19.   Terrebonne Cobras – 3.00

20.   English River Miners – 4.40

Shots For Per Game

1.       Brooks Bandits – 46.77

2.       Georgetown Raiders – 45.06

3.       Terrebonne Cobras – 45.00

4.       English River Miners – 43.60

5.       Miramichi Timberwolves – 42.25

6.       Longueuil College Francais – 41.33

7.       Battlefords North Stars – 40.75

8.       Dryden Ice Dogs – 40.50

9.       Ottawa Jr. Senators – 40.22

10.   Powassan Voodoos – 39.12

11.   Flin Flon Bombers – 38.25

12.   Blind River Beavers – 36.33

13.   Carleton Place Canadians – 35.72

14.   Penticton Vees – 35.64

15.   Whitecourt Wolverines – 35.25

16.   Trenton Golden Hawks – 34.14

17.   Portage Terriers – 32.58

18.   Chilliwack Chiefs – 30.87

19.   OCN Blizzard – 28.88

20.   Truro Bearcats – 28.70

Shots Against Per Game

1.       Longueuil College Francais – 24.22

2.       Brooks Bandits – 24.55

3.       Whitecourt Wolverines – 26.00

4.       Battlefords North Stars – 26.62

5.       Dryden Ice Dogs – 26.75

6.       Truro Bearcats – 27.20

7.       Powassan Voodoos – 27.25

8.       Carleton Place Canadians – 27.63

9.       Chilliwack Chiefs – 28.18

10.   Flin Flon Bombers – 28.41

11.   Georgetown Raiders – 28.53

12.   Ottawa Jr. Senators – 28.55

13.   Miramichi Timberwolves – 29.00

14.   Penticton Vees – 29.07

15.   Trenton Golden Hawks – 29.42

16.   Portage Terriers – 30.83

17.   OCN Blizzard – 31.11

18.   Terrebonne Cobras – 33.18

19.   English River Miners – 41.60

20.   Blind River Beavers – 42.08

Shooting Percentage

1.       Longueuil College Francais – 15.86

2.       Battlefords North Stars – 14.50

3.       Powassan Voodoos – 14.37

4.       Truro Bearcats – 13.93

5.       Miramichi Timberwolves – 13.31

6.       Brooks Bandits – 13.30

7.       Dryden Ice Dogs – 12.34

8.       Terrebonne Cobras – 12.12

9.       Chilliwack Chiefs – 11.94

10.   OCN Blizzard – 11.53

11.   Carleton Place Canadians – 10.68

12.   Whitecourt Wolverines – 10.63

13.   Portage Terriers – 10.23

14.   English River Miners – 10.09

15.   Trenton Golden Hawks – 9.83

16.   Georgetown Raiders – 9.02

17.   Blind River Beavers – 8.71

18.   Penticton Vees – 7.81

19.   Ottawa Jr. Senators – 7.45

20.   Flin Flon Bombers – 7.40

Save Percentage

1.       OCN Blizzard - .950

2.       Trenton Golden Hawks - .949

3.       Blind River Beavers - .946

4.       Ottawa Jr. Senators - .946

5.       Brooks Bandits - .945

6.       Miramichi Timberwolves - .943

7.       Powassan Voodoos - .935

8.       Dryden IceDogs - .934

9.       Flin Flon Bombers - .929

10.   Portage Terriers – .929

11.   Longueuil College Francais - .926

12.   Carleton Place Canadians - .924

13.   Chilliwack Chiefs - .922

14.   Georgetown Raiders - .920

15.   Whitecourt Wolverines - .918

16.   Battlefords North Stars - .915

17.   Truro Bearcats - .915

18.   Penticton Vees - .914

19.   Terrebonne Cobras - .909

20.   English River Miners - .894

Power Play Percentage

1.       Longueuil College Francais – 37.73

2.       Blind River Beavers – 33.33

3.       Battlefords North Stars – 30.76

4.       Powassan Voodoos – 30.43

5.       Whitecourt Wolverines – 28.13

6.       Chilliwack Chiefs – 27.77

7.       Dryden Ice Dogs – 26.66

8.       Ottawa Jr. Senators – 26.32

9.       Brooks Bandits – 23.68

10.   Portage Terriers – 23.68

11.   Terrebonne Cobras – 23.52

12.   Georgetown Raiders – 23.38

13.   Truro Bearcats – 19.51

14.   OCN Blizzard – 19.35

15.   Carleton Place Canadians – 18.18

16.   Flin Flon Bombers – 18.18

17.   English River Miners – 16.66

18.   Penticton Vees – 15.78

19.   Trenton Golden Hawks – 15.00

20.   Miramichi Timberwolves – 13.15

Penalty Kill Percentage

1.       Battlefords North Stars – 93.75

2.       Ottawa Jr. Senators – 93.02

3.       Powassan Voodoos – 93.02

4.       Dryden Ice Dogs – 92.59

5.       OCN Blizzard – 92.50

6.       Georgetown Raiders – 92.45

7.       Miramichi Timberwolves – 90.00

8.       Brooks Bandits – 87.80

9.       Truro Bearcats – 87.50

10.   Longueil College Francais – 86.48

11.   Carleton Place Canadians – 86.00

12.   Flin Flon Bombers – 85.41

13.   Trenton Golden Hawks – 85.25

14.   Chilliwack Chiefs – 84.21

15.   Penticton Vees – 82.92

16.   Whitecourt Wolverines – 82.79

17.   Portage Terriers – 80.85

18.   Blind River Beavers – 76.47

19.   Terrebonne Cobras – 74.07

20.   English River Miners – 58.33

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