The Terriers are between Rosetown and North Battleford, as I type. My thumbs haven't been this blistered since I sold my first bottle-fed calf when I was 12 and spent all the money on a Sony PlayStation and NHL 98.
The Battlefords North Stars are rolling at a pace I'm not sure I've seen in my almost 5 seasons in the SJ. There have been some good teams. Melville started 11-0 in my first season, 17-2 the following year, while Humboldt won close to 50 games in my first season.
The Terriers beat the Stars 5-4 in a shootout four weeks ago in NB, and Ryon Sookro and Ryley Stefanyshyn had two goals each. Sookro also scored the shootout winner. Neither of them are in the lineup tonight. Sookro has a minor injury and will sit this one out, while Stefanyshyn will suit up for Ochapowace tomorrow in Fort Knox, a game that'll also be on the air.
But since that SO loss to the Terriers, the Stars haven't lost again. 11 straight wins, and a 9 game streak before that now has them 20-1-0-1 in their last 22. Points in 21 of their last 22. Whichever sounds more impressive.
The scariest part of their streak, is that it seemed to be largely Blake Tatchell and his line doing the damage a few weeks ago, but now, other guys, like Kyle Hall, Roger Tagoona, and Tanner Schwab are picking it up. Brody Luhning, the league's top-scoring defenseman, has crept in the top 20 scorers overall. Woody Klassen, another D-man, is scoring at a pace better than most forwards. He has 3 goals and 4 points in 2 games against the Terriers. And of course, goaltending. Graham Hildebrand leads the league in every stat, while Connor Creech is 2nd in most.
Win-loss record, goals for, and goals against are all very impressive for the Stars. But two have arguably the top two goalies in the league, and play team defense in front of them that is smothering, is a combination that's tough to beat.
My previous post was called "killing time." So here's what I did. Pulled up the Stars schedule, clicked on each of their 33 games, because I was curious if their shots against have always been so low. It hasn't, actually. They routinely gave up 30+ for most of the first half of the season, but lately, that number's been going way, way down.
They've given up LESS THAN 20 shots 5 times this season, 22 or less 10 times, and less than 30 18 times in 33 games. Their average for the season is 27.6, which isn't THAT ridiculous, but I would guess it would rank tops. In their last 10 games, the Stars have allowed less than 25 shots 8 times.
Their last 5 games, is where it gets almost silly. 17 against Notre Dame, 16 against Estevan, 22 against Melville, 21 against Yorkton, and 17 against Melfort. 93 total, or 18.6 per game.
So a couple quick keys:
- Shoot the puck!
- Stay the heck out of the box. When Luhning and Klassen get on their off wings on the point, it's lethal. I haven't seen a duo like them since Wacker/Vandesype in Humboldt in 07-08 and 08-09. They can crank pucks, and if goaltenders are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough that they get hit, they've got the forwards to clean up the garbage.
Time to look at some stats other than shots on goal. Talk to you from the rink in NB!