The Richardson Pioneer Weyburn Red Wings embarked on their second-last overnight road trip of the regular season Thursday, packing up the bus and heading off to Flin Flon for a pair of games Friday and Saturday night.
The two franchises, two of the most storied clubs in Junior A hockey, have had some intense games over the past few years. There is the infamous “Moose Leg” game during the 2015-16 playoffs, and a line brawl that made headlines for all the wrong reasons during the 2018-19 season. While the fans may not forget those games, for the Red Wings, there aren’t any current members of the organization – players or staff – who were around when the rivalry was at its peak.
The two games carry a lot of weight for the Red Wings in the standings. After the games Wednesday night, the Wings are six points back of the Estevan Bruins for 6th place in the SJHL and have three games in hand. With 49 points, the Wings are sitting in 7th place, the same number of points as the Nipawin Hawks, but the Wings hold the tiebreaker between the two clubs.
“They’re definitely important,” head coach Cody Mapes said as the team was getting ready to load up the bus for the trip. “I think the guys are excited to get on the road, and in the hotel and into a rink that’s fun to play in.”
The Red Wings come into the pair of games in the oppressive Whitney Forum with a record of 1-2 against the Bombers so far this season. The most recent game was a 4-1 win for Weyburn at Crescent Point Place with a short bench due to players being out for various reasons.
“We gotta make sure that we play well, and continue to compete, and if we dot that it’ll be a fun finish to the end of the season,” Mapes added.
Since the start of 2023, the Red Wings have been one of the hottest teams in the league. With just four losses in regulation, they have shot up the standings and climbed into a playoff spot they have all but locked down. Many thought the Wings would be trying to just break into the seeding for the playoffs, but the surge as of late has them challenging for not just a better seed than 8th, but the Viterra Division pennant.
For a number of the Red Wings, this trip will be their first time playing at the storied Whitney Forum, which is affectionately called The Zoo by the locals in Flin Flon. Mapes stated he didn’t really have much in the way of advice for the players on how to prepare for the Whitney Forum.
“Once you get in and you’re five minutes into the game and you really know what you’re dealing with, I don’t think there’s much else that can really prepare you for it, other than just playing there,” Mapes chuckled. “The hockey game is still the same; it’s still inside the boards and there’s a lot of stuff going on outside the glass, but you’ve got to be able to block that out and just continue to play your game.”
With Weyburn having had the most recent win in the season series between the two clubs, it comes down to making sure the team is playing responsible, according to Mapes.
“They’re going to get their chances,” he pointed out. “They’re a good team, but we can’t give them more than they earn, and they’re going to earn a lot on their own, so we’ve just got to be responsible in that.”
Weyburn also had some success last season in Flin Flon.
During that trip, goaltender Boston Gelowitz, called up specifically for the road trip, shone as he guided the Wings to a win. Then, the next night, the Bombers barely eked out a victory.
“We had a good showing there last year when we were there, and there’s some guys who have won in that arena before, so I think that’s going to bode well for us,” added Mapes.
The two games in Flin Flon are part of a stretch of seven games on the road that started in Wilcox Monday night. The string of games away from the friendly confines of Crescent Point Place continue right through until March 9th, when they host the Notre Dame Hounds at home.
With the Wings chasing down 6th place, they will be looking for a little help from some of the other teams in the SJHL. The Estevan Bruins play just one game this weekend, against the Yorkton Terriers Saturday, and the Wings are hoping for a Terriers win to help close the gap with their Highway 39 rivals. The three games in hand will also prove important, but things could come down to the final game of the regular season, March 11th at Crescent Point Place against Estevan, to determine the Viterra Division title.
The Wings also have a magic number of 12 to clinch a playoff spot. This is either points gained by Weyburn or points lost by the Notre Dame Hounds. With the Hounds playing in Kindersley Friday and the Battlefords Saturday, that number could drastically change in just the course of the weekend.
Both of the games this weekend will be on Red Wing Radio BIG 106 with the pregame show on both nights starting at 7:15 and the puck dropping at 7:30 p.m.