ESTEVAN - The Estevan Bruins fell 5-4 to the Melville Millionaires Wednesday night at Affinity Place, but have still clinched the Viterra Division title for the fifth time in six years.
Tucker Buhay, who spent his last two seasons of U18 hockey playing with the Estevan Steelhaus AAA Bears, had a hat trick for Melville.
Buhay’s performance came on a night in which his former Bears’ teammate, Carter Onrait of Estevan, was making his SJHL debut for the Bruins. Onrait, 17, has spent the past two seasons with the Bears and has one more year of eligibility remaining at the AAA level.
The Mills came out flying Wednesday night and led 4-0 after the first period. Buhay scored Melville’s second and third goals, and Isaac Suppin also scored twice.
Kade Runkie scored early in the second period for the Bruins, but Buhay picked up his third of the night 30 seconds later. Keagon Little scored a short-handed goal 1:41 after Buhay’s hat trick goal, and Tim Tychonick pulled Estevan to within two before the period was out.
Ilia Chmelevski scored late in the third for Estevan to finish the scoring. Most of the final frame was spent in the Mills’ end, but Estevan only scored once. Owen Barrow did hit the post on a power play in the third period.
Rau finished with 35 saves on the night.
Bruins’ netminder came Hrdlicka allowed Melville’s first three goals along with their fifth goal. He finished with 15 saves on the night. Jackson Miller stopped nine of the 10 shots he faced after coming in for 8:39 of the first.
The Bruins clinched the division title after the Humboldt Broncos defeated the Weyburn Red Wings 6-3. Estevan (27-23-3-2) has 59 points, while Weyburn (25-26-2-1) has 53 and two games remaining. But due to the SJHL playoff format, there is no extra incentive for winning the division title.
Estevan is still battling the Nipawin Hawks for the sixth seed. Nipawin (26-23-5-1) sits seventh overall with 58 points and a game remaining. The Bruins would hold the first tiebreaker for regulation and overtime wins.
The Bruins will finish the season Saturday night in Weyburn.