Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hawks-Bombers Series Preview:

Well, here we are. Game 1 of the Nipawin Hawks run to the RBC Cup is Friday night against the Flin Flon Bombers, and after a 13 day wait it will be a sure thing the Hawks will come out flying.

This season, and much like last season, the team used a strong post-Christmas run to garner a reputation as one of the toughest teams to play against in the league. From Wheaton King through Michael Lambert through Benny Johnstone, everyone on this team has contributed  to the point where Doug Johnson has rewarded them all with increased ice time.

The Nipawin Hawks are looking at an opponent that they have played some tough games against, the Flin Flon Bombers. The two clubs played 3 times in each rink this season, with the visiting team winning 2 out of those 3 in the Whitney Forum and Centennial Arena both. Perhaps the most interesting stat, is that the Hawks have scored just 6 goals on home ice vs Flin Flon, compared to 10 on the road in an arena that many say is one of the toughest to play in.

The last time they met was January 15th, a night that saw Arti Kalashnikov score Nipawin's only goal on a breakaway feed from Wheaton King. But it was Davis Jones who dropped jaws that night despite a 2-1 overtime loss, as he stopped 48 of 50 shots that came his way. It was Brett Penner that night who picked up both goals for the Bombers, who's 557 fans that night will be expected to be doubled come Monday night.

King didn't stop there though, as that assist was his 5th assist at the Whitney Forum this season, in addition to the goal he scored in an earlier season meeting. On home ice against the Bombers, King had one strong game scoring twice, but other than that was held pointless in 3-1 and 2-1 losses.

Jesse Bernard was also a guy-to-guy at the Whitney Forum, collecting 2 goals and 3 assists in the first 2 games in Manitoba. On home ice, Bernard has helped lead the Hawks with a goal and 2 assists in a trio of games.

Much like the aforementioned two players, the rest of the Nipawin Hawk roster has come so far since September 21st, as group on and off the ice. Neat stat, is that Wheaton King was part of the last 2 Hawks playoff goals, and of the last 22 points given to Hawks players in the post season, 13 of the points were given to players who will wear the Yellow and Black during this years post season. To have those clutch players return for another season is huge for Doug Johnson and Tyson Hobbins, as it will allow the younger players to transition to the playoff mentality very quickly.

For the Bombers, it was a season of finding their identity. With 12 wins in a row to open the season on home ice, the team looked unstoppable. That is, until the Hawks knocked them off for their first home loss of the season. After that, it was a slide that lasted until nearly Christmas, with the Bombers winning 2 of 10 games from that point until December 21st, when a 4 game losing streak ended with back to back wins over Kindersley.

Flin Flon went on to win 7 of 10 games to finish the season, with two of those losses to inter-divisional playoff teams(Humboldt and Melfort). Brett Boehm has been the hottest player in the SJHL over the past weeks, raising his NHL Entry Draft stock with 8 goals and 13 points in  just 6 games.

Playing a big role on the Bombers this season is ex-Humboldt Bronco Josh Roach, who knows all about playoff hockey. After picking 16 points in 16 games en route to winning an SJHL title last season, Roach finished this season with over a point per game, which help him to 9th overall in the league with 13 goals and 41 assists. His play, at his age, leaves him as a very similar candidate to follow Andrew Johnston's path to the pro's in the off season.

Perhaps the biggest battle of the series will be in between the iron, where Devin Buffalo and Davis Jones prepare to show why they're both NCAA bound next season. With Jones and Buffalo finishing 3rd and 4th in league save percentages with a .926 and .927 rate respectively, it's Jones' numbers AFTER October that impress. After struggling for September and October, Jones went on to post a sparkling .936 save percentage and a 2.05 GAA. After having slow months in January and February, Devin Buffalo re-took the reigns in February, posting a .938 save percentage of his own that month.

The series begins Friday night in Nipawin, with Game 2 set for 24 hours after that. Get down to the Cage if you can and make some noise for the Hawks, who by the way finished 32-14-2-6 with 72 points. Game time is 7:30 for all home games, with the away games beginning Monday, getting underway at 6:30 LOCAL due to the time change taking place this weekend.

If you can't make it to the rink, the entire series will be broadcast on CK750 and online at with Dustin Scafe. Make sure you check YTN and following every game for a full recap.

The Hawks ticket office is open from 12-4 each weekday, and Friday from 2 until game time. Make sure you get your tickets early, and show up early as well! Prior to Game 1, Jesse Williamson's grandfather will be teaching fans the Hawks cheer about 15 minutes before the teams take to the ice.

Get ready Nipawin, the playoffs are here!

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