It's been a while (like 2 years) since I've done a regular season game preview... but I find myself with a little extra time before heading off to Estevan, a place where I should have just rented a place for a couple weeks! After going to Spectra Place with the Terriers last Tuesday, the Showcase was there over the weekend, I'm back with Melville today, and again with Yorkton next Wednesday. Then that's it until February 8th. But, I gotta feeling one or both of our clubs will be seeing the Bruins come playoffs. The Millionaires are also no strangers to the Estevan highway, with this already being their 3rd and final trip there this regular season, and with the Showcase, it's their 3rd trip there in the last four days.
These teams have shown some similarities in the early going:
- They both have rookie goalies who've come out of nowhere to challenge for, and quite possibly be, the starter. In Melville, there's no question that Alex Wakaluk's that guy right now. When he's between the pipes, the Mils are 5-1-0-2. When he's not, they're 0-3-1. His numbers (2.44, .922% are also among the best in the league. For the Bruins, Steven Glass has had the lions share of the work in goal, and his stats (5-1-0, 2.30, .929%) are even a little better than Wakaluk's. He's been their best option so far, but I get the feeling that Derek Tendler and Brandon Stone will be given some time to see if they can't push him a little. Tendler's a year older, and Stone has Major Junior experience.
- Both teams' offense has been top-heavy. Estevan's Neufeld-Olson-Smith trio, and Melville's top group of Mireau-McNulty-Owen are rivaling each other for most productive in the Sherwood, and in the SJHL. McNulty (11g-12a) and Smith (12g-11a) are tied for the league lead in points with 23. Mireau, Smith, and Owen were already proven point producers, while McNulty, Olsen and Neufeld are having breakout years. Estevan's big three have been broken up on occasion as Keith Cassidy looks for some scoring depth, and Neufeld's numbers understandably dropped when he was playing with other mates. He also missed Sunday's game at the Showcase and is a question mark for tonight. Both coaches would say they need more from the supporting cast. BUT....
- That secondary scoring has been coming a little more lately. For Estevan, it's been rookies like Tanner Froese (5 goals), former Yorkton Harvest Ben Johnstone (3 goals, all in his last 5 games), and Matt Brykaliuk (3 goals, 4 points in last 3 games) who've been picking up the slack. For Melville, you can't ignore the recent boost in offense from Michael Sagen. He's got 7 points during a 4 game point streak. Jamie Fiesel's made no secret that he needs more from returning vets who led last year's team, like Roger Tagoona, Michael Desjarlais and Lucas Froese. All three were off to slow starts, but have chipped in more of late to take some pressure off the top line. Underagers T.J. Reeve and Allen Kilback have both scored in recent games as well.
- Mike Desjarlais leads the Mils against Bruins, with 2g-1a-3p in 3 games.
- Neither team can say their powerplay's let them down. The Mils are 3rd best in the league at 25.7%. Estevan's next, 4th at 23.3.
- No team in the SJ has more experience in overtime than the Millionaires, but that hasn't translated to success. They've been to OT 4 times, and are 1-3, including 0-2 in shootouts. Their OT loss came in their last trip to Estevan, when Dylan Smith scored on an odd-man rush.
- Melville's 5-4-1-2 record is okay, but they must be feeling like it could be better. Aside from opening night when they lost 8-4 in, you guessed it, Estevan, the Mils have 6 losses (including OT/SO), and they've all been decided by one goal. A 4-3 loss in Notre Dame where they led early, a 3-2 loss to Estevan in their home opener, where they also scored first, and pressed hard to tie, and a 5-4 loss at the Showcase to Humboldt. They led that one 3-1, and gave a puck away on a late powerplay, giving up their first short-handed goal of the season at a terrible time, losing regulation. Protecting leads has been a concern, and it makes you wonder what this team's record COULD be. This isn't horseshoes, but the Mils have played in 11 games without losing by more than one. One the other hand, four of their five of their wins have been by more than a goal.
- Tyson Newell was among the league leaders in scoring by a defenseman last year, but those numbers were skewed a little, because he played a good chunk of the year at forward. This year, he's been on the back end every game, and those numbers are even better. His 16 points (3g-13a) have him at least 7 points ahead of any other SJHL defenseman.
If you're a Melville player reading this and you're superstitious...
Mark Owen- 7 game point streak (7g-6a-13p)
Tyson Newell- 7 game point streak (1g-10a-11p)
Ian McNulty- 6 game point streak (6g-9a-15p)
Michael Sagen- 4 game point streak (1g-6a-7p)
Jesse Mireau had an SJHL season-high NINE game point streak (5g-11a-16p) snapped, when he was held off the scoresheet against Kindersley on Sunday.
7:20 Pre Game Show from Estevan tonight... Mils and Bruins drop the puck for the final time at Spectra Place this regular season at 7:30.