The SJHL regular season wrapped up on Tuesday, March 8 and now it's time for everyone to buckle up for the playoffs.
The SJHL begins their playoffs with two, five-game survivor series between the seventh and 10th seed, and eighth and ninth seed.
Last season the Battlefords North Stars found themselves in the seventh seed and had to face off against the Estevan Bruins before advancing to the opening round and getting routed by the Kindersley Klippers.
It's a bit of a role reversal this year, as I believe the North Stars will match up with Kindersley again this season.
Match up: La Ronge Ice Wolves (7) vs Yorkton Terriers (10)
Season series: La Ronge 4-1-0-0 vs Yorkton
X-factors: Kris Joyce (La Ronge), Youthful exuberance (Yorkton)
The first survivor series has the La Ronge Ice Wolves hosting the Yorkton Terriers. Having watched the Ice Wolves play this season, it's clear they win games for two reasons: wearing opponents down with their constant physical prescence and the play of their goaltender Kris Joyce.
Joyce is fresh off being named the SJHL's MVP, which came as a surprise to some. He didn't have the most impressive stat line at 22-20-4-3, a 2.67 GAA and .931 save percentage, but you have to think about where the Ice Wolves would have been without him. Spoiler alert, it's probably outside of the playoff picture.
In the season series the Terriers won the first game 3-1, before the Ice Wolves won the next four match ups. Joyce started three of the five games, stopping 103 of 108 shots for a .953 save percentage against the Terriers.
Yorkton has an incredibly young team with only one 1995-born player on their team, Kailum Gervais. They feature the only two 1999-born players in the league in the Welke twins Carson and Mackenzie. Despite the youth, the Terriers are quite skilled and will be a force in the years to come.
That being said, I don't think they have a chance in this series. La Ronge's goaltending combined with Yorkton's youth doesn't bode well for the Terriers, though I do think they'll win one game.
Prediction: La Ronge wins in four games
Match up: Kindersley Klippers (8) vs Notre Dame Hounds (9)
Season series: Kindersley 4-2-0-0 against Notre Dame
X-factors: Austin Calladine (Kindersley), Alexi Thibaudeau (Notre Dame)
These are two teams that I saw quite a bit over the course of the season, and two teams that struggled against the North Stars.
Nothing compares to the way the Hounds struggled down the stretch, however. Notre Dame won just one of their final 15 games, coincidentally enough against the Klippers, while being outscored 79-33.
Alexi Thibaudeau, who was great all last season before seeing his numbers drop off in the playoffs, struggled mightly after a great month of January in which he posted a .949 save percentage.
He went 1-9-1 down the stretch and with an inexperienced back up in Darin Fox, Thibaudeau is basically all the Hounds have. They've got two great defenceman in Nathan Walsh and Peyton Hogan along with solid contributers up front in Ian Williams and Gage Ramsay, but with Thibaudeau's play down the stretch it's hard to believe he'll suddenly be able to turn it on when it matters most.
The Klippers traded away seemingly half of their team this summer, but picked up a top player in Austin Calladine. He led the Klippers in scoring with 75 points and is dangerous any time he's on the ice. He had four breakaways agains the North Stars in the final regular season game, three of them shorthanded.
I can't imagine morale is too high in the Hounds dressing room with the way they played down the stretch. I believe Kindersley will roll over Notre Dame, though again I'll gie the Hounds one win in the series.
Prediction: Kindersley wins in four games
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