Game #45 – Battlefords North Stars at Flin Flon – Whitney Forum

40TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON

North Stars Record: 26-16-0-2

Last game recap – The North Stars skated to a 3-1 win over Humboldt. Cam Blair scored twice in the first period and Michael Gudmandson was only beaten once all night making 37 saves for the win. Taylor Reich added a late empty netter for the North Stars.

For more on the game check my post game report here.

Storylines:

  • Previous Meetings: The North Stars and Bombers have met 3 times this season with the North Stars taking all 3. The Stars have wins of 2-0, 4-3 and 3-2 in a shootout. Michael Gudmandson is 3-0 against the Bombers. Nick Fountain has 2 goals and Dillon Forbes 3 assists versus Flin Flon in head to head games. Austin Evans, now with the Bombers, had 2 goals for the Stars versus FF.
  • Former Players: The Bombers have a couple former North Stars and two great young men, in Casey Parker and Austin Evans. Evans was traded for Cam Blair at the deadline. So far with the Bombers Evans has no points in 4 games. Parker has yet to make an appearance. For Blair it will be a big weekend. Back in Flin Flon for a few days where he spend the last 3.5 seasons and is still the team’s leading scorer this season. Blair will take to the ice at the Whitney Forum as a visiting player for the first time and that will be strange I am sure.
  • Hot versus not: The Bombers are currently on a 4 game losing skid after dropping a 6-3 decision against Melfort on Wednesday night. In their last 10 games the Bombers have juts 2 wins and they have slipped to 12th in the league standings. The North Stars have won 9 in a row and are now up to 5th in the league standings. They are now 4 points back of Kindersley for the division lead with the Klippers still having 2 games in hand.
  • 5 on 5: The North Stars haven’t given up a goal at even strength in over 3 games. The last 3 wins for the Stars have come with just 1 goal allowed in each game. And each of those goals was scored on the power play. Yorkton’s Brett Boehm was the last player to score against the North Stars at even strength back in the first period of the Stars win over the Terriers. The North Stars have also gone 4 straight games now with just 1 goal against. A sure fire way to win a lot of hockey games.
  • Stingy: As a further aside, the North Stars have allowed just 12 goals in 8 games in 2014, or if you prefer, 1.5 goals against per game in that span. A couple of those were against the high powered La Ronge offense as well. Right now the Stars defensive structure seems to be pretty dialed in. When playing coach Hasselberg’s system well the North Stars are very difficult to score against. And they are playing it very well right now.
  • Fans: Several North Stars fans are making the trip to Flin Flon for the pair of weekend games. The Whitney Forum with all it’s history and atmosphere is one of those rinks everyone needs to check out at least once. It’s a wonderful place to watch a hockey game and although it does present some challenges it’s also a great place to play.
  • Big Weekend: The North Stars have a pair of games in Flin Flon. The Kindersley Klippers have road games in Melville and Yorkton. Humboldt hosts Yorkton and visits Melfort. It’s way too early for a weekend or a series of games to be decisive but this could be a big swing weekend. The Broncos win over Kindersley on Wednesday night means the Stars are only 4 points back of the Klippers but the Klippers have 2 games in hand. Interestingly for Flin Flon, after these two home games versus the Stars, the schedule has plenty of road games coming up. The Bombers, battling for a playoff spot, play 7 of their next 8 on the road following Saturday’s game. Humboldt plays this weekend as well. They host Yorkton tonight. That’s a big game.
  • Back to back: The last time the North Stars played back to back games in Flin Flon was the 2011-12 seasons. The two teams split the games. Last season the Bombers had just 2 home back to back series. The Bombers took both in a home back to back with Kindersley. And split a home back to back against the visiting Humboldt Broncos. This season on November 8th and 9th the Bombers and Broncos split two back to back games at the Whitney Forum. In the last 3 seasons. only 3 teams out of 10 have taken both games on a back to back trip to Flin Flon. Weyburn, Melville and Humboldt all did it back in the 11-12 season. Different teams, different seasons and nothing is set in stone but I wondered if Flin Flon was a tough place to go and win to straight games and it turned out that it is tough.
  • Strength of Schedule: I spent some time Thursday morning trying to compare the schedules of the North Stars and Klippers the rest of the way. Just out of curiosity more than anything else. The Stars average opponent the rest of the way, not counting head to heads with the Klippers to close the season, has 39 points. The Klippers average opponent, not counting the Stars, has 44 points. (I rounded up) So that’s a slightly tougher average opponent for the Klippers.  The North Stars play 60% of their games against teams below .500 as of today’s standings. The Klippers play 58% of their games against teams above 500. Again slightly tougher for KK. Both teams have 5 home games remaining. The Klippers have 7 road games to the Stars 5. But the Klippers have the best road record in the league and the third best home record. What does this all tell us? Nothing really. Both the North Stars and Klippers are hot as of late. Both are capable of stringing wins together and winning on the road in tough buildings. All I know is that anything can happen down the stretch.

Some Keys for the Stars:

1) Penalties – These are two of the league’s top 3 in terms of penalty minutes this season. Last time they met the two teams were both 0-4 on the power play and each team took a major as Sam Williams fought Kendall Fransoo. The North Stars aren’t being scored on much 5 on 5 so they may as well keep the game at even strength.

2) Netminders –  Since trading Devin Buffalo the Bombers have struggled to keep the puck out of the net. They’ve allowed 19 goals in the 4 games since Buffalo was dealt. They are 0-4 in those games. The North Stars have two goalies who are rolling right along. If Flin Flon gets comparable goaltending to the North Stars they’ll have a chance on home ice. If they don’t?

3)  Crowd The crowd in Flin Flon is always a part of the story and they make for a great atmosphere. The North Stars will have support as some local fans are making the trip plus some parents. The Stars need to embrace trying to quiet the crowd and embrace the role of villians.

North Stars Lineup:

Gudmandson
Martin

Erickson – Schmidt
Forbes – Fransoo
Robin Yew – Charleson

Young – Blair – Leonenko
McMillen – McColgan – Keller
Greenaway – Petrino – Quinn
Regan Yew – Reich – Fountain

Scratches: Delainey, Heinrich, Lacoursiere

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