NORTH BATTLEFORD - The Battlefords North Stars entered their final stretch of regular season games this week, still hoping to move up the standings before the playoffs begin.
They did just that, as they won 7-1 over the Nipawin Hawks at the Access Communications Centre to move into fourth place in the league with three games to go.
Going into Tuesday night's home contest against the Hawks, the North Stars stood fifth overall at 32-16-5-1 for 70 points, one point behind Flin Flon Bombers and three behind Melfort Mustangs. But the North Stars still had a game in hand on Flin Flon and two on Melfort, and both Melfort and Flin Flon were playing each other that night.
The North Stars also had a game scheduled for Friday night at home against the Bombers that will go a long way towards determining who finishes third, fourth and fifth in the league -- and with it, who gets home ice advantage against their opponents in the first round of the SJHL playoffs.
The Flin Flon game will wrap up the home schedule for the North Stars, who have a road game scheduled versus Kindersley Saturday and then against Notre Dame Monday, again on the road.
GAME REPORT: North Stars at Klippers, March 4
Last weekend, the North Stars faced the Kindersley Klippers in back-to-back contests hoping that a sweep could propel them ahead in the standings. But the club could achieve only a split against the Klippers.
The North Stars won the first game Friday 4-1 at West Central Events Centre. The Stars took an early lead in the first on goals from Jake Southgate and Zane Florence. Then after Aidan Bangs responded with a second period goal, Dylan Esau gave the North Stars an important insurance goal at the 5:13 mark. Southgate's second of the night into an empty net sealed the win.
GAME REPORT: Klippers at North Stars, March 5
The North Stars dropped the rematch the following night at Access Communications Centre by a 4-2 score. A goal from Tylin Hilbig just 28 seconds into the second period gave Kindersley the lead, and while Esau's goal tied the game at the 8:25 mark, Nathan DeGraves put the Klippers ahead for good at the 13:39 mark.
In the third, Bangs gave the Klippers a 3-1 lead early in the period. While a late goal from Zane Florence gave the North Stars some life, Andrew Schaab sealed the deal into an empty net for the 4-2 win.
GAME REPORT: Hawks at North Stars, March 8
Tuesday night, the North Stars were back home against Nipawin and the two teams traded goals early on. Nipawin got on the board first on Braxton Buckberger's goal before Steven Kesslering tied it at the 18:26 mark from Esau and Emmett Wurst.
In the second period the North Stars took command with three straight goals. Kesslering's second of the night just 34 seconds into the period put the North Stars in front, and then Bradley Blake added an insurance marker at the 5:31 mark.
Just as the Hawks managed to kill off a penalty, Colby Bear scored to make it 4-1 at 11:30. That would be all the scoring through two.
The North Stars had an overwhelming advantage in shots on goal, out-shooting Nipawin by a 33 to 20 margin through two.
In the third period the North Stars extended their lead as Emmett Wurst got his 13th of the season at the 3:02 mark, for a 5-1 lead. With 2:13 left the North Stars added another goal from Blake, his second of the night, with Evan Waldie and Gavin Granger assisting. Then with 1:23 left Esau finished the scoring with his 22nd of the season, unassisted, for the 7-1 final score.
Austin Schwab had a relatively easy night, stopping 25 of 26, while the North Stars finished the evening with 45 shots on Harmon Laser-Hume.
With the win the North Stars moved to 72 points, one point in front of Flin Flon for fourth place in the league after the Bombers dropped a 3-2 result at home Tuesday against Melfort. That sets up the critical Friday night rubber match for the North Stars with the Bombers, with fourth place on the line.