SJHL Game 44: Battlefords North Stars at Notre Dame Hounds

This afternoon the North Stars will wrap up a 3 in 3 southern road trip with an afternoon game against the Notre Dame Hounds. Never an easy place to play with the Olympic size ice, lack of atmosphere and a Hounds team that knows how to play to it’s own rink. The Stars are banged up, playing for the third time since Friday night and battling with several good teams for playoff positioning in the North. All in all it should be a great game today.

The North Stars have 15 points in their last 10 games played. Only Humboldt has more in their last 10 games. Nipawin and the Melville Millionaires also have 15 points in 10 games played. So there aren’t many teams who have played better than the Stars in 2013.

The Hounds are currently in 3rd in the South and just 4 points back of Melville with a game in hand. So it’s not just a big game for the North Stars. It’s a big game for both teams. The Hounds have just 3 wins in their last 10 games played and after yesterday’s win will be looking to get back on track.

The North Stars will look for a season sweep against the Hounds with a win tonight. The Stars have 2 regulations wins and a shootout win against Notre Dame but they haven’t faced each other since mid November.

Recent Games:

Notre Dame Hounds:

  • The Hounds beat Melfort yesterday on home ice. The Hounds had 4 different goal scorers in a 4-1 win.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • The North Stars are coming off a very good 4-1 win over Estevan last night.

Players to Watch:

Notre Dame Hounds:

  • Carson Grolla and Mitch Boucher. These two D men are 2nd and 3rd on their team in scoring and each have over 30 points so far this season.
  • Jens Johnson. Another defenseman. Johnson has yet to pick up a point since being traded to Notre Dame at the deadline. He’ll be looking to get that out of the way as soon as possible.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • I will be watching today to see how some of the guys who are banged up play. At this time of the season a lot of guys on every team are playing through pain and other guys are unable to play due to injury. That’s just a fact of life in junior hockey. But with a third game in three days it will be interesting to see how the Stars battle through their issues.
  • Connor Creech. Obviously wasn’t happy with the third period in Weyburn. Not that there is much blame for the goals he did allow but after a very good opening 40 minutes I am sure Creech wanted to finish off the Wings in the third which eventually did happen. Creech has been great of late and with the issues we’ve discussed a strong performance from the goaltender is a big key for the Stars.

Head to Head:

  • Notre Dame 2 @ Battlefords 5 (Oct 11 2012)
  • Battlefords 4 @ Notre Dame 1 (Oct 29 2012)
  • Notre Dame 3 @ Battlefords 4 (SO) (Nov 16 2012)

Special Teams:

Notre Dame Hounds:

  • PP: 40-196 (20.4% – 5th in SJHL)
  • PK: 168-201 (83.6% – 5th in SJHL)

Battlefords North Stars:

  • PP: 41-211 (19.4% – 6th in SJHL)
  • PK: 173-213 (81.2% – 8th in SJHL)

North Stars win 4-1

The Battlefords North Stars played very well tonight in Estevan and were led offensively by a couple of talented 20 year old forwards. Kyle Hall and Braeden Johnson combined for 6 points in the victory.

The North Stars jumped out with a strong first period and it was Johnson leading the way. The first goal came midway through the opening period. Kyle Hall and Josh Betinol combined to set up Johnson in the slot. He kind of fanned on his first shot but stuck with it and settled the puck before firing past Martinu in the Bruins net. Johnson was the set up guy when the Stars made it 2-0. Austin Evans scored the goal. His 10th of the year. Evans scored last night as well and is on a nice little run. Kyle Schmidt took the warm up and played a couple shifts in the first but pretty quickly Dillon Forbes, who had been scheduled to play forward, dropped back to D and Schmidt didn’t return for the second period.

The second period was a busy one for the referee. After a pretty quiet opening period with just 1 power play between the two teams it was the middle frame when things got started. The Bruins scored a quick goal just 11 seconds into the period. Casey Parker tried to drop the puck behind the net for Brody Luhning. But it was stolen, it looked like it stopped on a wet patch of ice, and Dylan Smith set up Alex Cote out front to make it 2-1. Shortly after that Evan Ripley went to the box for boarding. It was not a good call. The player that Ripley hit didn’t even hit the boards. But the Bruins had the momentum and a power play. The Stars didn’t hang their heads they just went out and delivered a great penalty kill to keep it 2-1.

22 seconds after Ripley return Kyle Hall scored his first of the game. Robbie Newton threw a good hit on the boards and Josh Betinol poked the puck to some open ice. Newton then made a nice little pass across to Hall who scored with a perfect shot over the glove of Martinu. It was a great response from the North Stars and the score was 3-1. The North Stars lost Kendall Fransoo early in the second period when he fell awkwardly into the boards. He returned in the third period but for a while the Stars were pretty short of players without Schmidt and Fransoo. Then at one point the Stars had 3 guys in the box as well. Jake McMillen got into a scrap with Dylan Smith. Smith got the decision but both guys were in the box for 5 minutes. Then McLaughlin and Marit went off for roughing and it was 4 on 4. Then more roughing calls against Joren Johnson and Tanner Froese. The penalty boxers were pretty full at that point.

With 3 minutes left in the period the Bruins thought they had gotten within a goal. But the ref never signaled if it was a goal or not. The ref then checked with the linesman and waved the goal off. It looked to me like it deflected off a high stick but the reason the goal was disallowed was apparently because the went in off of a glove. That got the Bruins bench fired up. It didn’t get a great look at a replay but it did look to me like a high stick. Estevan was eventually given and bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. That gave the Stars some 4 on 3 power play but they couldn’t score. Brody Luhning did hit the crossbar with a good hard point shot.

The North Stars finished the Bruins off early in the second. In fact it was 11 seconds into the third that the Stars scored. Which was strange considering it was 11 seconds into the second that the Bruins scored their only goal. Dillon Forbes chipped the puck ahead to Kyle Hall and he went in on a 2 on 1. Hall kept and shot and scored his second of the year. Braeden Johnson eventually credited with the other assist. A goal and an 2 assists for Johnson and 2 goals and an assist for Hall.

Josh Betinol hit a cross bar that would have made it 5 for the Stars and later on a power play Joren Johnson hit the post. The Stars controlled the play for the most part in a very good road third period to take the win. I didn’t really mention Casey Parker much in this blog tonight in part because he was so solid tonight that he made a lot of saves look routine. He ended up stopping 28 of 29 shots in a very good performance. He did make 4 or 5 really good saves along the way but it was the calmness and positioning that impressed me tonight. Parker is now 6-6-2 this season.

That’s 2 out of 2 so far this weekend for the Stars and a very good win to build off of going into tomorrow afternoon in Notre Dame. Puck drops at 4:30 and I will be on the air at 4:15 with the SaskTel pregame show.

SJHL Game 43: Battlefords North Stars at Estevan Bruins

The Battlefords North Stars head to the nicest rink in the SJHL tonight for a battle with the Estevan Bruins. It’s game number 2 of a huge 3 game weekend for the North Stars who got off to a solid start with a 5-4 win in Weyburn last night.

Recent Games:

Estevan Bruins:

  • Picked up a huge 6-4 win over the Flin Flon Bombers last night on home ice. Matt Brykaliuk and Cole Olson each scored twice and maybe the big surprise is that the Bruins scored 6 times without Dylan Smith picking up a point.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • The North Stars came out flying last night in Weyburn and dominated the first ten minutes of the hockey game. They played at a pace that the Red Wings couldn’t match and it led to a couple of power plays for the Stars. They scored their first goal on a 5 on 3 power play after penalties to Ty McLean and Josh Lees. Austin Evans scored the goal with assists going to Luhning and Jake McMillen. That goal came with 10 seconds left in the first penalty so the Stars remained on the power play for about another minute after that. But they couldn’t score. Robert Wilkinson took an elbowing penalty later in the period and Brandon Long scored a beautiful goal on a great shot. That made it 2-0 after the first. But it could have been more. Nate Ferris got the start for the Wings and he was good in the first. He stopped Blake Young on a break away and in total made 12 saves in the period. The second period was a bit of a reversal with the Wings playing well and Connor Creech standing on his head. He made several top notch saves in the period and maybe his best moment wasn’t a save. The Wings had a 2 on 1 and the pass went across the ice. Creech was so alert and in such good position that when he went quickly post to post the shot was fired high and wide. Creech not credited with a save but good goaltending forced the shooter to try and pick a corner and as a result miss the target. The Stars did get a second period goal to make it 3-0. Jake McMillen with his 12th of the year.
  • The second period was more memorable for a couple of incidents involving players being thrown out of the game. Kyle Hall was given 2 and a game early in the second for checking from behind. I thought the D man Drake Brown turned at the last second and put himself in a vulnerable position. Hall told me after the game that he thought Brown was off balance as well. I thought it was a penalty but I thought that the game misconduct was very harsh. Later in the period Luke McColgan had his head down looking for a pass and Miguel Pereira caught him with a huge hit. But Pereira made contact with McColgan’s head and that earned him 5 and a game. Austin Evans jumped in and fought Pereira. It ended up being 2, 5 and 10 for instigating on Evans and 5, 5 and a game to Pereira. 5 for fighting plus 5 and a game for a blow to the head. The fans in Weyburn didn’t like that call but in this day and age with players being protected players have to find a way to avoid hitting to the head.
  • The Wings scored a power play goal early in the third period and then another one with a little under 5 minutes to go to make it 3-2 and set up a wild finish. Josh Betinol won an offensive zone face off shortly after the Wings made it 3-2. Blake Young’s shot was blocked and Brandon Long followed up to fire post and in. It was 37 seconds after the Wings goal and it gave the Stars their 2 goal lead back. It didn’t last. The Wings scored again less than a minute later. 4-3. A screen shot that Creech never saw. And I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The game was end to end and scrambly and pucks were flying into the net. Travis Marit scored a good grinding goal by going to the dirty areas out front of the net and getting the puck to the back of the net. That made it 5-3. But with the net empty the Wings scored again to make it 5-4 with 1:01 remaining. All told it was 5 goals in the space of 3 minutes and 47 seconds. The Wings got the net empty again but the Stars were able to clear the puck down the ice and pick up the win.

Players to Watch:

Estevan Bruin:

  • Dylan Smith. Smith was the SJHL player of the week after returning to the Bruins. He didn’t get on the score sheet last night against Flin Flon and he’ll be fired up to help his team to another huge win tonight.
  • Alex Cote. Is currently on a 7 game assist streak. He hasn’t scored in that span but he has set up 8 goals in his last 7 games.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Kyle Hall. He should be fresh and fired up to play tonight after missing the majority of last night’s game.
  • Austin Evans and Brandon Long. Both guys are now at 9 goals for the season. And both will be looking to get to double digits in their first SJHL season as soon as possible.

Head to Head:

  • Estevan 4 @ Battlefords 3 (SO) (Jan 13 2013)
  • Battlefords 1 @ Estevan 4 (Oct 26 2012)

Special Teams:

Estevan Bruins:

  • PP: 20-165 (12.1% – 12th in SJHL)
  • PK: 130-157 (82.8% – 7th in SJHL)

Battlefords North Stars:

  • PP: 41-206 (19.9% – 6th in SJHL)
  • PK: 169-209 (80.9% – 9th in SJHL)

SJHL Game 42: Battlefords North Stars at Weyburn Red Wings

The North Stars have had almost a week off since their last game Saturday night in Kindersley. As a result of that game the Stars will be without Blair Atcheynum and Ben Greenaway this weekend as both were suspended for 3 games. The Stars have only lost once in regulation so far in 2013 but have lost in a shootout twice and in overtime. They are 4-1-1-2 so far in this calendar year.

Currently the Stars are 3 points behind Nipawin in the standings and can move within 3 points of Flin Flon if they were to win their games in hand. The Bombers are down south this weekend as well. They have already beaten Notre Dame and while the Stars are in Weyburn tonight Flin Flon is in Estevan and then the two teams will switch places. It’s an important weekend but at this point in the season every game and every weekend is going to be huge.

Recent Games:

Weyburn Red Wings:

  • A 4-3 loss on the road in Yorkton was the Wings most recent game. They have won just once in their last 7 games a stretch that began with a 5-1 loss to the North Stars at the Civic Center.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Lost 4-2 in a shootout in Kindersley.

Players to Watch:

Weyburn Red Wings:

  • Perreira, Ostertag and Williams. All 3 are over a point a game so far this season and combined they have 44 goals. Only one other Weyburn player has double digit goals. Lane Harbor has 12.
  • Carter Struthers. A big and physical D man who can dominate in his own zone. He also has a very solid 16 points in 23 games played this season.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Luke McColgan. Hasn’t had a point now in 5 games since picking up an assist against Nipawin on January 8th. His last goal came against Weyburn in that 5-1 win at the Civic Center. McColgan has been playing well of late and wracking up the hits. Perhaps tonight is the night he gets the rewards on the score sheet that his play has deserved.
  • Kyle Schmidt. Not sure if or when he will play on this road trip. But Kyle was sent to the Stars this week by the Saskatoon Blades. That should mean he is healthy and ready to get back on the ice. The Stars have a lot of depth on D so how and when they are all used will be something to watch for the rest of the season.

Head to Head:

  • Weyburn 1 @ Battlefords 5 (Jan 4 2013)
  • Weyburn 0 @ Battlefords 1 (Dec 15 2012)
  • Battlefords 2 @ Weyburn 5 (Oct 28 2012)
  • Jake McMillen leads the Stars in head to head scoring against the Red Wings with 3 points in 3 games played. Casey Parker is 1-1 against the Wings with a shutout while Connor Creech is 1-0 with just 1 goal allowed in his only game against Weyburn this season. Ostertag and Struthers each have 2 points in 2 games against the Stars.

Special Teams:

Weyburn Red Wings:

  • PP: 23-166 (13.9% – 9th in SJHL)
  • PK: 158-197 (80.2% – 10th in SJHL)

Battlefords North Stars:

  • PP: 39-202 (19.3% – 6th in SJHL)
  • PK: 165-1203 (81.3% – 8th in SJHL)

SJHL Realignment

The SJHL will have a new look next season. Here’s the league’s press release. http://www.sjhl.ca/news_article/show/213460?referrer_id=618093

Key Changes:

* Three divisions with 4 teams in each division. The North Stars will be in a division with Humboldt, Notre Dame and Kindersley. The other divisions will have the north teams Flin Flon, La Ronge, Melfort and Nipawin together. And down south Estevan, Weyburn, Yorkton and Melville will be in a division.

* Unbalanced schedule. The release says a 56 game schedule will be played in the regular season. So by my math that’s 8 games against division opponents. 4 home and 4 away. That’s 24 divisional games. Then 4 each against the other 8 teams in the league. 2 home and 2 away. That’s 32 non-divisional games. Combined it would make a 56 game schedule.

* Playoff seeding. The division winners are ranked 1-3. The second place teams in the divisions are ranked 4-6. Then the next 4 teams in the league are ranked 7-10. Two teams miss the playoffs. The 7-10 seeds play a wildcard round. Similar to the current survivor series. 7 vs 10 and 8 vs 9 playoff in 5 game series with the winners being ranked 7th and 8th. Then it’s a league wide playoff with 1 vs 8, 2 vs 7 and so on.

———

North Stars president Ray Adelman spoke with CJNB/CJNS news guy Kelly Bitner yesterday and said he likes the changes. The North Stars are happy to be able to play extra games against the Kindersley Klippers. That’s an old school natural rivalry that still has some heat. And will have even more in the future. The Stars also get more games with Humboldt. It sounds like with the schedule the North Stars will have less trips to La Ronge, Flin Flon and Nipawin. Adelman says the Stars won’t have more travel or more costs because of the change and could end up saving a little.

The playoff format allows for potential league championship series between two teams from the same division. So the North Stars could conceivably face Kindersley or Humboldt in the league final. Adelman says the changes to the schedule and the playoff format will be good for the SJHL and fans will like the changes. I tend to agree.

——

The only issue I have personally with the changes are that division winners are automatically seeded 1-3 and the second place teams seeded 4-6. Hypothetically that means the Stars could finish second in the league behind Humboldt and be ranked as a 4 seed. I am not sure if the teams are re-seeded after the first round. But this format means the league’s two best teams could face off in the second round of the playoffs (or third round if you count the wildcard playoffs as a round) rather than the final. And I don’t like that idea.

I think division winners should be guaranteed a playoff spot. But after that I saw rank the teams based on record. And not based on what division they just happen to be playing in. Some will say my concerns are countered by the unbalanced schedule. And there is something to that suggestion. It’s just a personal complaint that I also have with the NHL’s division winners playoff format.

Fall out from North Stars loss in Kindersley

The Battlefords North Stars lost 4-3 in a shootout in Kindersley on Saturday night. It was a pretty intense game and following on from the night before it was an intense game as well. The Stars got goals from Matt Sheeran, Kyle Hall and Braeden Johnson but were unable to score a go ahead goal in the third when the Stars were definitely the better team. DJay McGrath was excellent in the game with 2 goals and the shootout winner.

After the shootout the Klippers came off their bench to celebrate the win and ended up celebrating right in front of the gate that the Stars had to use to get to their locker room. The North Stars have to skate across the ice to make their way to their room at the West Central Events Center. It looked like the referee wanted the North Stars to wait before they made their way off the ice. But a lot was happening so I’m not sure about that. Connor Creech was first off the ice as he squeezed past the Klippers.

Next thing you know there were two hockey teams, who had just played an intense game, in very close quarters. Not surprisingly some guys ended up bumping into each other and a bit of a melee developed.

With pretty much every player for both teams on the ice it was tough for me to see what was going on. It didn’t look like very many punches were thrown and most of the players calmed down pretty quickly. Considering the ratio of players on the ice to officials it could have gotten out of hand. Anyway, cooler heads prevailed and what could have been a bad situation didn’t end up going overboard.

It was a little glimpse into some old time hockey and perhaps for the league it wasn’t an ideal example. But for fans I am sure it was exactly the reason the Stars and Klippers rivalry needs to be rekindled with more games and perhaps the two teams being in the same division.

——-

Early this morning, at around 1:30am, the SJHL tweeted that Ben Greenaway, and Stars assistant coach Blair Atcheynum have been suspended 3 games each. The Stars were also fined. Nothing was tweeted about any suspensions or fines for Kindersley.

I find it a little strange that the Stars were the only team punished after Saturday but I haven’t seen the replays since that night and like I said it was impossible for me to see everything that was happening. I also know the North Stars organization pretty well and I know they will take responsibility for their team and their actions and no excuses will be made. I haven’t spoken to the Stars yet but I imagine they will accept the league’s ruling and move on with trying to win hockey games.

———

In the end it means the North Stars will be without Greenaway and Atch this weekend with games in Weyburn, Estevan and Notre Dame starting Friday night.

SJHL Game 41: Battlefords North Stars at Kindersley Klippers

The North Stars are now 13-4-2-1 since mid-November. The team has had it’s up and downs but has found way to win a lot of hockey games. They get timely scoring by committee and play great team defense. The Stars are 2 points back of Nipawin and 4 back of Flin Flon in the tight North division. It’s another big game tonight against the 4th place team in the south. Should be a spirited affair tonight after last night’s game.

Recent Games:

Kindersley Klippers and Battlefords North Stars:

  • The Battlefords North Stars won 2-1 last night at the Civic Center. Brody Luhning scored the Stars opening goal late in the first period and it was a beautiful goal. Fake slap shot, toe drag around the D and get to the front of the net. Then he fired the puck over the glove of King and into the roof of the net. The Klippers tied it less than 2 minutes later with 1 minute left in the period. A power play marker to make it 1-1. Both goalies were outstanding and it was a good physical game. Dillon Forbes fought Justin Schoffer after a Forbes hit on Jordan Wittman. Schoffer then his Blake Young in the second period and Young got up and fought Schoffer. Schoffer didn’t fight and didn’t drop his gloves. So Young ended up in the box with a 5 minute major penalty that the North Stars killed off. Matt Sheeran drew a late power play goal and then scored the goal to get the Stars the win. It was a close game but the Stars were good. They were very physical and there was great passion from both teams.

Players to Watch:

Kindersley Klippers:

  • DJay McGrath. The Klippers captain had some chances last night and was involved physically as well. He’s a player I enjoy watching.
  • Justin Schoffer. He was involved in a lot of fights and pushing and shoving last night. Interested to see how much he is involved tonight.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Brody Luhning. Since he seems to score every game now that’s it is 2013 you have to keep your eyes on Luhning. You gotta give credit to Dillon Forbes as well. They compliment each other well. And Forbes presence allows Luhning to jump in the rush with confidence.
  • Jake McMillen. 1 goal in his last 5 games. McMillen, and his line, looked dangerous last night. McColgan brings a physical presence and that allows McMillen and Evans to find more open ice. They are due to get on the score sheet.
  • JJ and Matt. Joren Johnson and Matt Sheeran have had a couple games together since Matt returned to the lineup. With Sheeran getting back up to full speed and some chemistry between the two of them I think that pair will soon be eye catching at both ends of the ice.

Head to Head:

  • Kindersley 1 @ Battlefords 2 (Jan 18 2013)
  • Kindersley 1 @ Battlefords 4 (Sep 22 2012)
  • Battlefords 1 @ Kindersley 2 (Sep 21 2012)
  • Brody Luhning leads the head to head scoring with 3 goals and 5 points. He had all 4 points in the 4-1 win on September 22nd. 2 goals and 2 assists. And a goal last night. Kyle Hall and Blake Young each have 2 points in 3 games against the Klippers this season.

Special Teams:

Kindersley Klippers:

  • PP: 26-153 (17% – 8th in SJHL)
  • PK: 110-143 (76.9% – 11th in SJHL)

Battlefords North Stars:

  • PP: 37-195 (19% – 6th in SJHL)
  • PK: 158-195 (81% – 8th in SJHL)

SJHL Game 40: Kindersley Klippers at Battlefords North Stars

The Battlefords North Stars host the Kindersley Klippers tonight at the Civic Center.  Kindersley comes in to tonight’s game having won 3 of their last 4 games.

The Klippers and Stars haven’t faced each other since the opening weekend of the season when they split a home and home. The North Stars won 4-1 at the Civic Center on September 22nd. Brody Luhning had 2 goals and 2 assists.

This weekend is the final time this season they will face off. Tonight’s game is the start of another home and home. In fact, this is the Stars final home game of January. They head south next weekend and aren’t at home again until February 1st when they host Melville.

Recent Games:

Kindersley Klippers:

  • Beat Melfort5-3. The Klippers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period and cruised from that point on. Stefan Seel had 3 points including a pair of goals. It was a nice bounce back game for the Klippers after losing to Melfort 9-2 earlier in January.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Beat Melfort 5-2. Got goals from throughout the lineup. Played hard throughout the game. Responded well to adversity. All in all a very good game for the Stars to show they were back after a tough loss to Estevan.

Players to Watch:

Kindersley Klippers:

  • Giovanni Bombini. Has 41 points in 36 games played this season. Tied for the team lead with 18 goals.
  • Colby Daniels. The other real offensive threat for Kinderley. Has 40 points in 36 games played. Other than Djay McGrath the Klippers don’t have a lot of offense. Those three players combined have over a third of the Klippers goals. Keeping them quiet isn’t going to be easy.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Kyle Hall. Just 1 goal and no assists in the Stars last 6 games played. The Stars have been getting offense from all over the lineup including 8 goals since the new year from Luhning and Quinn. But they need Hall scoring more regularly. He’s always going to contribute with face off wins and defensive play. But along with Braeden Johnson the Stars need offense from that line. That line looked good against Melfort and I thought Hall should have been credited with an assist in that game. Let’s see if they break out tonight.
  • Evan Ripley. Hadn’t been at his best after the Christmas break. But was very good against Melfort. Looking forward to Ripley upping his game even more and giving the Stars a lift down the stretch.

Head to Head:

  • Kindersley 1 @ Battlefords 4 (Sep 22 2012)
  • Battlefords 1 @ Kindersley 2 (Sep 21 2012)
  • Brody Luhning leads the head to head scoring with 4 points. He had all 4 points in the 4-1 win on September 22nd. 2 goals and 2 assists. Kyle Hall and Blake Young each have 2 points in 2 games against the Klippers this season.

Special Teams:

Kindersley Klippers:

  • PP: 25-147 (17% – 8th in SJHL)
  • PK: 107-139 (77% – 11th in SJHL)

Battlefords North Stars:

  • PP: 36-191 (18.8% – 6th in SJHL)
  • PK: 153-189 (81% – 8th in SJHL)

North Stars respond with 5-3 win over Mustangs

It was a strong effort from the North Stars last night at the Civic Center and a real nice bounce back game after a frustrating loss on Sunday.

The Stars came out flying and the Betinol, Young and Long line really set the tone with a great first shift. That line had another strong game and it started right from the opening face off. Betinol was recently named the SJHL’s rookie of the week and he looked good again last night. But that line has looked better and better with the impressive play of Blake Young of late. He’s been dynamite. Travis Marit had a couple good chance in the opening period but both shots just missed the net glove side.

The Evans, McColgan and McMillen line was controlling the puck well along the boards and Braeden Johson looked quick and sharp in his first game back after missing a few games because he was sick. All in all I thought all 4 forward lines were very good last night and it all stemmed from a good first period. They all played to their strengths and the Stars were winning nearly every battle all over the ice.

Very early in the game one of the new Mustangs Preston Eshenko stepped up to try and hit Dillon Forbes in front of the North Stars bench. Forbes stood up to the hit and Eshenko was sent flying. It was a tough introduction to the SJHL for the former Whitecourt Wolverine.

Jesse Wilkins started in net for Melfort and he made several good saves including a really good pad save to stop Blake Young from scoring. Wilkins couldn’t stop Brody Luhning from scoring on the power play though. Luhning made a great move at the Melfort blueline to get by the Mustangs defense. Austin Evans was there to seize on the puck and get a shot away which was stopped. Luhning grabbed the rebound and calmly waited for Wilkins to dive across the net. Then Luhning popped the puck into net on the backhand to make it 1-0 Stars.

Casey Parker only had to make 7 saves in the first period and most were routine. But he did make a really good pad save on a low shot back across his body. Parker stopped his momentum and got his tow on the puck then stopped the rebound and covered up. The Stars turned the puck over at their own blueline late in the first period and had another turnover in the neutral zone. They were noticeable because the Stars had managed the puck so well up to that point. Those two little turnovers also foreshadowed the second period.

In the middle frame the Stars came out a little flat and the Mustangs came out with a better effort. Early in the period Ben Greenaway took a puck up high near his face. It looked painful and doubly annoying because he was offside at the time. the opening exchanges in the second were pretty scrambly which is how the Mustangs would have liked it. And they must have loved it when Godric Tham found himself at the side of the net with 3:55 gone in the second. Tham tipped a Jay Aasen point shot past Parker to make it 1-1.

In many ways the game up to that point was very similar to the Estevan game. The Stars dominant in the first but unable to pull away and the Mustangs getting stronger as the game wore on. But unlike that Estevan game the Stars responded last night very well. Midway through the period Casey Parker made a really good glove save to keep it tied at 1. And the North Stars started getting back to how they were playing in the first period. Shortly after that Parker save it was Braeden Johnson with a chance in front of the Melfort net. His backhand slid just wide. Ben Greenaway crushed Matt Saunderson with a good hit midway through the period. He also had a couple chances in the game to get away good wrist shots. He was robbed by Wilkins on one with 6:19 left in the middle frame. 31 seconds later the Stars were in front.

Blake Young has been burning up the wings the last few games using his great speed and strength to power to the net or swooping around the net to look for a pass. This time he gave the puck up to Brandon Long in the middle of the ice. Young continued on towards the net and Long found him with the return feed. The Stars forward made no mistake firing the puck under the arm of Wilkins to make it 2-1 Stars. 1:43 later it was 3-1. Luke McColgan flipped the puck off the glass and out of his own zone. It landed perfectly in the stride of Jake McMillen who was in alone. He faked the wrist shot and went back hand shelf. It was 3-1 Stars after 40 minutes of play. The shots were 26-16 Stars.

Late in the second the Mustangs did have a chance but Dillon Forbes made a good play to deflect the shot out of play. All of the Stars D pairs were better last night. I thought Ripley and Gosselin were really solid. Forbes was noticeable for his shot blocking. On the Mustangs third period power play goal Forbes had already racked up 2 good shot blocks before the goal. And Matt Sheeran and Joren Johnson improved as they get to know each other a little better. There was a turnover at the Melfort blueline on a Stars power play that led to a break away. But both Joren and Matt busted hard back to their own net to pester Brady Goebel and Parker made the save. Mistakes will happen from time to time, although I know the Stars will try to limit them as much as possible, and it was great to see guys not hanging their heads but working hard to regroup.

Jesse Wilkins was keeping his team in the game at this point. He couldn’t stop a Braeden Johnson shot from the slow after a nice set up by Quinn and Hall. But Wilkins did stop Tanner Quinn with a good save later in the period. Minutes later the Marit line had a couple chances. Robbie Newton fighting hard to get his stick on the puck in front. Wilkins denying the Stars captain. At the 9:46 mark of the period Blake Young had a great rush short handed and almost got the puck to the front of the net. That was the Stars first PK of the game and it came in the middle of the third period.

The Stars only took 2 penalties in the game and the second came on a tripping call against Josh Betinol. The Mustangs scored when Matt Saunderson had time to tee up a perfect slap shot over the glove of Parker and into the top corner. Betinol’s line had a real good shift after that goal to get the momentum back.

And Tanner Quinn was able to score an empty net goal after Robbie Newton had won a battle to get the puck out of his zone with less than a minute to go. Newton got some help but did a great job pushing the play up the wall taking the puck and some Mustangs with him.

Parker was solid down the stretch and ended up making 25 saves for the win. In the end I thought all 20 guys contributed to a solid win. The one thing the Stars will be looking at is how many chances they gave up to the Mustangs PK unit. The Stars power play looked pretty good moving the puck at times and did get a goal on 5 chances. But coach Hasselberg said after the game that they gave the Mustangs too many chances to try and score short handed.

Next up for the North Stars is a home and home with Kindersley. Game 1 is at the Civic Center on Friday night.

SJHL Game 39: Melfort Mustangs at Battlefords North Stars

The Battlefords North Stars will look to bounce back after a frustrating and disappointing 4-3 shootout loss to Estevan on Sunday. They worked hard and controlled the game, especially in the first period, but didn’t put the Bruins away.

Coach Hasselberg says his team need to play with, “positive energy and positive emotion” as the games get harder leading towards the playoffs. The Mustangs will be a good test of that tonight as they have won 2 in a row and haven’t lost in regulation since a December 31 loss to Nipawin. They have positive energy building and with a win the Mustangs will tie the season series with the North Stars. They will be motivated for a win tonight.

This is the first game for Melfort since they traded Carter Berg and they will likely have two D men making their Mustangs debut. The challenge for the Stars is to play with an “edge” as coach Atcheynum called it before the Estevan game. If they bring that enthusiasm that we saw in the first few games after Christmas the Stars will be tough to beat. Let’s hope they bring that to the rink tonight.

Recent Games:

Melfort Mustangs:

  • Crushed Kindersley 9-2 almost a week ago. Brandon Sloan scored twice. Adam Fauchoux had 3 assists in the big win. The Mustangs haven’t lost in regulation in 2013.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Lost 4-3 in a shootout to Estevan. Worked hard but didn’t do enough to put the Bruins away. Need to play with more enthusiasm and with more of an edge. If they add those elements to the mix they are a top team in the SJHL.

Players to Watch:

Melfort Mustangs:

  • David Heath. Should make his Melfort debut tonight. Has big skates to fill as he was dealt to Melfort with Carter Berg going to Nipawin. Heath has played pretty well this season against the Stars. But that was with Nipawin where guys like Williamson and Datoff take most of the ice time. Heath will be a bigger piece in Melfort. It will be interesting to see how he handles the bigger role.
  • Preston Eshenko. Also expected to debut tonight. Was picked up from Whitecourt of the AJHL in exchange for future considerations. Had 3 assists in 23 games this season for the Wolverines. He’s an 18 year old D man who is listed at 6’2 190. The Melfort D isn’t going to be any smaller even without Berg.

Battlefords North Stars:

  • Josh Betinol and Blake Young. Singled out for praise following Sunday’s game by Coach Hasselberg. These two were outstanding and all over the score sheet. Would love to see that continue tonight.
  • The Energy Line. Greenaway, Newton, Marit. Were fantastic early in the new year. The last couple games they haven’t been as effective. Still physical and hard working. They need to get back to being a force in front of the net. Coach thought they were playing on the perimeter against Estevan. Expect that to be remedied tonight.

Head to Head:

  • Battlefords 5 @ Melfort 2 (Dec 7 2012)
  • Melfort 3 @ Battlefords 1 (Dec 5 2012)
  • Battlefords 2 @ Melfort 5 (Nov 14 2012)
  • Melfort 4 @ Battlefords 5 (Oct 19 2012)
  • Battlefords 3 @ Melfort 1 (Sep 29 2012)
  • Player Stats
    Battlefords North Stars
    22 – Kyle Hall – 5 games – 3G – 3A – 6pts
    21 – Braeden Johnson – 5 games – 2G – 4A – 6pts
    Melfort Mustangs
    55 – Logan Sceviour – 4 games – 0G – 6A – 6pts
    16 – Brandon Sloan – 4 games – 5G – 1A – 6pts

Special Teams:

Melfort Mustangs:

  • PP: 17-140 (12.1% – 11th in SJHL)
  • PK: 120-141 (85.1% – 3rd in SJHL)

Battlefords North Stars:

  • PP: 35-186 (18.8% – 6th in SJHL)
  • PK: 152-187 (81.3% – 8th in SJHL)