The Weyburn Red Wings will be returning to action Wednesday night as the La Ronge Ice Wolves pay a visit to Crescent Point Place. It will be the first of two meetings in five days between the two clubs, as the Ice Wolves make a road trip through southeast Saskatchewan.
The Red Wings are coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over the Melfort Mustangs Saturday night. The win improved the record on the season for the Red Wings to 4-2-1 on the year. They are in second in the Viterra Division, eight points back of the Estevan Bruins for first, and having eight games in hand.
The Ice Wolves have been off since last Wednesday when they fell 3-2 to the Kindersley Klippers at home. The loss was the fourth in a row for La Ronge, who is currently last in the Sherwood Division with a record of 1-6-0-1.
Offensively, the Red Wings have the potential to put up five or more goals against nearly any opponent. They have seen the scoring touch this year from throughout the roster, with just seven of the 22 skaters on the roster not picking up a point.
Some of the performers are those who fans expected to see big numbers from, like captain Mike Eskra, who leads the team with seven points from the blue line. Others, like rookie Derick Smith, who has three power play goals so far this season, continue to perform as advertised.
Some of the off-season acquisitions for the Red Wings continue to impress, with players like Jeremy Velazquez, Shae Kiryk, Dawson Atamanchuk and Matthew Jones looking better each and every game.
As for the La Ronge Ice Wolves, scoring seems to be a trouble spot at times for the team. Their scoring is spread throughout the roster, though, which has helped immensely in keeping the team in close games and giving them a chance to win night in and night out. Their offensive potential is just hidden by their early season record.
Along the blue line, the Red Wings have perhaps the most talented group in the SJHL. Eskra, as mentioned, leads the team in points, but is also a key in his own end for forcing turnovers. Second-year blueliners Dylan McCabe and Carson Scheschuk are also strong in their play in their own zone/. Returning players such as Devon Becker and Erik Olson also keep the opposition on their toes when entering the offensive zone, and rookies Garrett Szeremley, Wyatt Arndt and Jevon Schwean continue to impress early in the season.
The Ice Wolves have a lot of talent along their blue line as well. Bryce Fiske leads the team with six points and gets help from returning veterans like Trey Doell, Austin Shumanski, and Egan Wolford, who was picked up in a trade from the Notre Dame Hounds.
La Ronge’s defensive corps has the chance to make big plays, but need to avoid getting caught flat-footed and prevent the high number of shots they have given up (42.25 per game) in order to allow the forwards to generate some offense.
In net, the Weyburn Red Wings, as they have been for much of the past five seasons, are among the best in the league. This season, a tandem of Arik Weersink and Carter Phair has carried the bulk of the workload. They are currently sixth and seventh, respectively, in goals-against average for the season, and both are boasting save percentages which are above .900. The 18 goals they have allowed, combined, are the second fewest in the league, behind only the Battlefords North Stars, who have also played two fewer games.
As for La Ronge, Luke Lush has carried the bulk of the work for the Wolves. His GAA of 3.84 is 15th in the league this year, while he has also faced 283 shots - fourth highest in the league. He has worked to try to keep the Wolves in the game on many occasions and will have his work cut out for him on this swing through the southeast, as the Wings are known for creating quality scoring chances.
Special teams play is consistently an area where successful teams are strong, and the Red Wings are no slouches when down a man, or having the man advantage. Coming into the game Wednesday, Weyburn has a power play percentage of 17.1 percent. This is on par with what many consider to be a successful power play conversion rate, given the average in most leagues is around the 18 percent mark.
The penalty kill for the Wings is also strong, as rare as they have had to kill off a penalty. Being the least penalized team in the SJHL, the Wings have only given up 27 man advantages, and their opponents have scored just four times. This is the second fewest number of power play goals against.
As for the Ice Wolves, they have struggled at times finding the back of the net while on the power play, but nearly a third of their goals scored this year have come with the man advantage. Converting at 13.6 percent, it has room for improvement, but is by now means the worst in the SJHL this season.
The penalty kill, though, does need some work. The Ice Wolves have given up 10 power play goals in the young season (a third of the goals scored against), and are preventing their opponents from scoring with the man advantage 77 percent of the time.
When the puck drops at Crescent Point Place Wednesday night, the Red Wings will be looking to improve their record to 5-2-1 on the season, and begin to close the gap with the Estevan Bruins for first in the Viterra Division. In order to do so, the Wings will need to continue to win at home, and continue to find ways to generate the scoring chances they have been. It all starts at 7:30 p.m.