After a season that saw them post the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey’s best record and claim five year-end awards, the Battlefords North Stars head into the playoffs as the favourites to hoist the Canalta Cup.
The North Stars went 48-5-2-1 in the regular season. They finished with 99 points in the standings – 18 ahead of the 81 the second-place Humboldt Broncos had with a game left to play. However, the SJHL is loaded with talented, quality teams. The No. 8 Weyburn Red Wings will have the first opportunity to upset the North Stars as they meet in the opening round. The other five teams that will compete in the SJHL postseason are the Flin Flon Bombers, Melfort Mustangs, La Ronge Ice Wolves, Estevan Bruins, and Nipawin Hawks.
That leaves the following teams on the outside looking in Notre Dame Hounds (20-28-4-2 with two games to play), Yorkton Terriers (19-36-0-1), Kindersley Klippers (13-34-4-5), and Melville Millionaires (14-35-5-1, with one game to play).
Read below for more on the SJHL playoffs. Dates were not released as of Sunday night.
Kian Bell of the Battlefords North Stars received two of the league’s top honours. The Ottawa product was named the SGEU MVP of the Year and the RBC Player of the Year. He led the league with 102 points and 54 goals, as of Sunday. Bell hit the 50-goal mark before playing 50 games this season – 52 goals in 49 contests.
At the other end of the ice, Bell’s teammates Josh Kotai and Tynan Ewart were recognized. Kotai was honoured with the SaskTel Top Goaltender award. The Abbottsford, B.C. product led the SJHL in wins (32), goals against average (2.39), and save percentage (.935). Ewart was named the Superu Defenceman of the Year. Hailing from Duncan, B.C., Ewart anchored the North Stars blueline and led SJHL defencemen in scoring with 56 points, including eight goals.
Brayden Klimosko received the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association Coach of the Year honours. It is the third straight time the North Stars bench boss has won the award. He shared it in 2020 with La Ronge head coach Kevin Kaminski. The team was ranked No. 1 in the country most of the year. The North Stars did not lose in regulation until the 2023 part of the season.
The Melfort Mustangs’ Riley Ashe was selected as the Directwest Rookie of the Year. The 16-year-old from Warman recorded 38 points with eight goals.
The Federated Co-Op Most Sportsmanlike Player award was shared between Tylin Hilbig of the Kindersley Klippers and the Nipawin Hawks’ Zander Stewart. Hilbig, a forward, paced the Klippers with 38 points and was tied with teammate Matthew Mazzocchi with 18 goals for the team lead. He had 37 penalty minutes. A defenceman, Stewart recorded 41 points with eight goals while receiving 12 penalty minutes.
No. 1 North Stars vs No. 8 Red Wings
The North Stars, who beat Weyburn in all five of their matchups, have been a powerhouse all season. As of Sunday, they boasted the league’s top four scorers in Bell (102), Holden Doell (100), captain Jake Southgate (82) and Steven Kesslering (69). The one blip for the juggernaut this season was a four-game stretch in January when Battlefords fell 4-0 to Estevan, beat La Ronge 4-3 in overtime, and lost twice to Humboldt – 4-3 and 4-2. All of these losses came on the road. At home, the North Stars are an SJHL-best 25-2-0-1.
The Red Wings clinched their playoff berth last week. The squad was 26-26-2-1 with one game left to play. Partway through the season the Red Wings added Ryley Morgan from La Ronge. Through Sunday, he had 15 goals and 39 points in 31 games for Weyburn. Morgan and teammates Ty Mason and Jackson Hassman all have 24 goals this season while Jakob Kalin has 22.
No. 2 Broncos vs No. 7 Nipawin
The Humboldt squad was 3-1-0-0 against Nipawin this season. With a game left to play, the Broncos boasted the second-best record in the SJHL at 40-14-1-0. As of Sunday, Cage Newans led the team in points with 57, including 20 goals, in 54 games, while Lucas Ceccarelli had 55 with 14 goals in 54 contests. Newans ranked seventh in the SJHL as of Sunday, while Ceccarelli was 12th. Alec Saretzky had a team-best 27 goals to rank sixth in the SJHL, while teammate Ben Kotylak had 23 for 17th place. Humboldt had the league’s best powerplay at 26.2 per cent.
Broncos goalie Benjamin Motew has 17 wins, a 2.73 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Humboldt led the SJHL with an 84.7 per cent penalty kill.
The Hawks are back in the playoffs after a year’s absence. The team had a 26-24-5-1 record during the regular season. Goalie Jackson Fellner was fifth in the SJHL, as of Sunday, and ninth with a 2.98 GAA. Stewart provides valuable offence for the Hawks from the backend. Up front, Nipawin is led by Alex Johnson with 55 points. Braxton Buckberger (a team-high 23 goals) and Carson Dobson have 45 points each.
No. 4 Mustangs vs No. 5 Ice Wolves
The Mustangs have home ice advantage against their Sherwood Division foe. The Ice Wolves were 4-2-0-0 versus Melfort this season. Melfort had the league’s second-best penalty kill at 84.2 per cent while La Ronge was third at 84.0. The Mustangs were fourth in powerplay efficiency at 23.1 per cent with the Ice Wolves fifth at 19.5.
Melfort captain Ben Tkachuk leads the team with 56 points, which placed him eighth as of Sunday in the league standings. Dawson Leroux was 15th with 53 while Zac Somers had 51 to place 17th. The latter was eighth in the SJHL in goals with 26.
The Mustangs boast a formidable duo in net in Joel Favreau and James Venne. In the league standings, Favreau was third in goals against at 2.56 with Venne placing fifth at 2.68, as of Sunday. Venne had 17 wins and Favreau 14.
With Dawson Smith leading the way, the Ice Wolves are also strong in the crease. He was second in GAA (2.47) and save percentage (.933) and fourth in wins (19). At the other end of the ice, captain Walker Jerome paces the squad with 52 points in 54 games. Ethan Strik has a team-high 23 goals. Tommy Wright led all SJHL rookies with 44 points.
No. 3 Bombers vs No. 6 Bruins
With a 37-15-2-2 record, the Flin Flon Bombers won the Sherwood Division, which had all four of its teams make the postseason. The Bombers have the second best powerplay in the league as it performs as a 25.5 per cent clip. The Bombers have five of the league’s top 20 scorers in Cole Duperreault (fifth, 64 points). Jeremi Tremblay (10th, 55), Zach Cain (18th, 51), Jaeden Mercier (19th, 50), and Reece Richmond (29th, 48). Richmond was second in SJHL blueline points.
Bombers netminder Harmon Laser-Hume was second in wins with 28. He had a 2.57 GAA and .914 save percentage.
The Bruins won the Viterra Division. As of Sunday, they had a 27-23-3-2 record. The Bruins led the SJHL with an average attendance of 941.
Bruins goalie Cam Hrdlicka has 21 wins, a 2.96 GAA, and a .912 save percentage, as of Sunday. Kade Runke leads the team with 26 goals and 54 points. Defenceman Aleksa Babic is third on the team with 40 points.