BATTLEFORDS — For Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League squads, it is a game of “pick your poison” when playing the Battlefords North Stars.
As of Tuesday, the league-leading team boasted the SJHL’s top three scorers: Holden Doell, 33 points in 17 games, Jake Southgate, 33 points in 21 games, and Kian Bell, 32 points through 18 games. However, the North Stars’ offensive attacks is more than just that trio of points producers. Steven Kesslering (12th, 22 points) and Tynan Ewart (19th, 20) also ranked among the league’s top 20 scorers. Between No. 29 and No. 39 on the scoring list, the North Stars have three more players: Keiton Klein (29th, 17 points), Colby Bear (37th, 16), and Jordan Gibbs (39th, 16).
“I think we have a good group of guys that like pushing each other daily,” Battlefords head coach Brayden Klimosko said. “So, it’s good friendly competition amongst teammates and linemates.”
As of Tuesday, the North Stars led the league with 106 goals. Second place in that category was the Estevan Bruins with 85 – 21 less than Battlefords. For the North Stars, wins have come along with all of those goals. The squad has yet to drop a game in regulation this season. It had an 18-0-2-1 record and topped the Canadian Junior Hockey League Top 20 Rankings, as of Monday.
“The most enjoyable thing about this season has been showing up every day with the boys and battling whether it’s in practice or games or even things outside the rink,” captain Jake Southgate said. “Our team is very competitive and has a lot of fun together no matter what we are doing.”
The North Stars receive contributions from various players throughout its lineup. As of Tuesday, Bell paced the league with 17 goals. Southgate topped the SJHL with 25 assists. Four North Stars were in the top 10 in the league in assists. Ewart was second among defencemen with 20 points, following Estevan’s Alex Blanchard’s 21. Fellow blueliner Jordan Gibbs was sixth among SJHL defencemen with 16 points. He was fourth in points among league rookies.
The North Stars led the SJHL with 28 power play goals. They were second in power play efficiency at 25.9 per cent. Flin Flon led at 28.2 per cent.
“The power play has been effective because the players have a shooting mentality. Working on getting lots of shots to the net,” Klimosko said.
Klein was second in the SJHL with seven power play goals. Bell was fifth with six, while Kesslering ranked ninth with four. With 10 powerplay assists, Doell was second in the SJHL.
“It’s been a lot of fun on the power play with every guy that’s on the ice being a threat to score,” Southgate said. “It doesn’t matter who has the puck or who’s making the play, we all have confidence in each other and Coach Klimosko trusts us to go out there and score.”
While the North Stars have been lighting the lamp this season, they are also taking care of business at the other end of the ice. As of Tuesday, they led the league with 46 goals against – an average of 2.19 a game. Battlefords was fourth in penalty kill percentage at 84.7 per cent. “We take a lot of pride in our team defence, which starts with our goalies who’ve been unbelievable,” Southgate said. “Our defencemen sacrifice their bodies and get in the shot lanes. When you’re on the ice and you see guys getting in shot lanes and sacrificing themselves, it makes you battle that much harder.”
North Stars netminder Josh Kotai leads the league, as of Tuesday, with a 1.88 goals against average and a .942 save percentage. He was tied with Estevan’s Cam Hrdlicka for top spot with 13 wins. Justin Maric had not played enough games to qualify for the SJHL goalie stats rankings but out all of the league’s netminders, he is eighth with five wins. Maric had a 2.60 GAA and a .931 save percentage.