Nipawin Hawks and Melfort Mustangs – Different paths, same destination
Almost a month into the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) season and nine games, the Nipawin Hawks and Melfort Mustangs will finally lock up.
This weekend marks the first of five home and home series (10 games total) between the Hawks and Mustangs, getting started Friday, Oct. 12 at Northern Lights Palace in Melfort before travelling North to Centennial Arena in Nipawin the following night.
Coming into this weekend, the paths both teams took are night and day from one another.
The Hawks started the year with a perfect 6-0 record. Heck, they were the top team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League for two straight weeks before two losses in their last three knocked them down to seventh.
Meanwhile the Mustangs have been a tale of two halves: Pre-SJHL Showcase and the Showcase going forward.
Pre-SJHL Showcase Mustangs struggled out of the gate going 1-2-1, while the SJHL Showcase and beyond Mustangs have gone 4-1-0.
Perhaps showing their stuff in front of a few dozen college scouts was the energy drink they needed.
As if their seasons haven’t been different enough, the Hawks and Mustangs enter the weekend with a contrast of styles.
While the Hawks have the best points percentage in the SJHL standings (.778), they haven’t lit up the lamp efficiently. Their 24 goals in nine games (not counting the goal given for a shootout win) gives them the second worst goals-per-game in the SJHL only behind the last place Melville Millionaires.
On the other end of the spectrum the Hawks have the lowest goals-against-per-game at 2.00 with 18 goals against in nine games. Huge credit for those numbers go to arguably the current best goalie tandem in the SJHL with Declan Hobbs and Patrick Pugliese.
In summary, the Hawks haven't been good at scoring, but good lord they are great at preventing teams from doing so.
Now look at the Mustangs. A dynamic offence up front with Justin Ball, Carson Albrecht, and Kenzie Arnold while Kayle Tosh and Jake Hobson produce from the backend.
It’s all lead to the Mustangs scoring 40 goals in their nine games. 16 more than the Hawks and good for first in goals-per-game in the SJHL (4.44).
At the same time the Mustangs have given up 32 goals in the nine games, 14 more than the Hawks, and a 3.56 goals-against-per-game that sits sixth worst in the SJHL.
This weekend will be a battle of elite offence versus elite defence, and vice versa.
While these paths of winning, scoring, and defending have made the Hawks and Mustangs different thus far, at the end they share similar positions.
The Hawks goal differential is plus seven. The Mustangs is plus eight.
The Hawks are tied with Flin Flon for first in the Sherwood Division with 14 points. The Mustangs are right behind them with 11.
This weekend the Mustangs can snatch the division lead, the Hawks can continue to separate themselves from their northeast neighbour, or they can split the games and the Flin Flon Bombers walk away quietly leading the Sherwood.
Yes, it’s a long season and the Hawks and Mustangs are sure to change over the course of the year, but the change goes through one another.
Both squads have 49 games remaining in their schedule and 10 are against each other. That’s one fifth of their season going forward.
With the Sherwood Division very well running through their rivalry and match ups with Flin Flon and La Ronge, the results from this weekend’s match ups can very well determine how the Hawks and Mustangs will view themselves going forward and how they’ll shape their rosters for the other eight head to head games.
Tisdale Trojans – Being the Elite
Tisdale Trojans head coach Darrell Mann won’t call the Tuesday, Oct. 5 game against the Saskatoon Contacts.
The Trojans took five penalties, two which resulted in a five-on-three power play late in the second that eventually lead to a goal, and ultimately fell 6-5 in overtime.
Mann described it as “one of those things where we didn’t play our best game of the year but pretty happy to get one point out of the game".
Although the game did show the resiliency the Trojans are capable of.
Down 4-2 heading into the third, the Trojans got a goal back early on thanks to a Kalen Ukrainetz power play goal, before the Contacts answered back four minutes later to make it 5-3.
Cutting the deficit in a game and having the opponent respond so quickly can be demoralizing for a team and continuing maximum effort, especially when it’s one of 44 games in the regular season.
Yet the Trojans didn’t give up with Jayden Wiens and Trenton Curtis both scoring in the latter half of the third to tie it up 5-5.
And that was the crucial progression for Mann: Not giving up.
“It’s nice this year that our hockey club has lots of skill up front,” Mann said. “We’re able to score goals and with our hockey team we’re never out of a game with guys that can put up numbers.
“It’s great for our hockey team going forward knowing if we’re down two or three goals that we always have an opportunity to come back.”
Six games into their Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL) season, the Trojans have been “haves” to start. Their 4-1-0-1 record gives them nine points to sit fourth in the league standings.
A big part of the Trojans’ early success is winning against teams lower in the standings, such as defeating the single win Yorkton RawTec Maulers twice to start the season.
It’s the step up against the higher teams in the league that hasn’t been as consistent for the Trojans.
Against middle of the pack teams the Trojans blew out the Prince Albert Mintos 6-2 but could only score once against the Moose Jaw Generals in a 2-1 loss.
Against the top of the league the Trojans blew out the second place Swift Current Legionnaires 6-0 but didn’t have their best effort against a Contacts team they’re neck and neck with in the standings.
“Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with 15 and 16-year-old kids sometimes (consistency) is one of your biggest hurdles to achieve,” Mann said. “We’re hoping to find some consistency and to get to that next level. I think we’ve got the skill sets and players here, it’s going to be up to our guys to decide if they want to work that hard to be an elite hockey team.
“It’s going to boil down to who wants games most when you’re playing those top end teams and who’s got that extra little push late in hockey games.”
The Trojans are on the road and have a chance to continue their good trend against lower ranked teams in the league on Saturday, Oct. 13 against the winless Notre Dame Argos, and a chance to improve on their trend against higher ranked teams the following day in Regina for the Pat Canadians home opener.
The same Pat Canadians team whose only loss so far has come in a shootout and have only allowed seven goals in give games.
On Twitter: @SchulzePANow
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