The Battlefords North Stars return to action tonight against the Flin Flon Bombers at the Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.
The North Stars sit second in the Global Ag. Risk Solutions Division with 56 points, thanks to 24-11-8 record through 43 games heading into action. The team will be looking to rebound from a tough 6-0 loss to the Klippers which took place in the Stars’ lone home game of the month at the Civic Centre, Tuesday evening.
The Bombers, at 27-13-2, sit second in the Sherwood Division, also with 56 points on the season. Flin Flon enters play as the hottest team in the SJHL, as the club will ride the strength of a seven-game winning streak into Friday night’s contest.
The Bombers boast the top-ranked offence with 181 goals in just 42 games. The North Stars, meanwhile, will counter with the third-ranked defence, having allowed just 141 goals against.
Flin Flon centreman, Nate Hooper is an intelligent all-around offensive threat, and leads the lethal Bombers’ attack with 20 goals and 64 points in 42 games played, good for third in the league scoring race.
Hooper’s teammate, left winger Brandson Hein, also ranks within the top five in league scoring, having already amassed 61 points of his own through 41 games. Hein’s 36 goals rank second, as the 20-year-old forward possesses what Danny Gallivan would call a “cannonading drive.”
Despite the similar point totals, it is important to note Hooper and Hein are not regular linemates at even-strength.
The Bombers have dynamic offensive contributors spread all throughout their top nine forward group, on a team that also includes last year’s SJHL Rookie of the Year, in former Weyburn Red Wings’ captain, Cade Kowalski (47 points in 38 games). First-year phenom, Vincent Nardone who leads all rookies with 17 goals, and defending SJHL Player of the Week, Chrystopher Collin, are other scoring threats to be mindful of, among others.
Tasked with shutting down the many potent offensive weapons of the Bombers, will be a North Stars’ defence core spearheaded by team captain, Cody Spagrud.
Friday night will mark game number 200 in the SJHL for Spagrud, who leads his team in minutes played, goals, assists, points and shots from the back end, in this, his fourth full year with the team.
The recently-turned 21-year-old has already matched his previous career high in points set last season with 30, doing so in 14 fewer games. Spagrud also obliterated his previous high in goals with eight already this season.
Because several North Stars’ players are affected by the flu, the Stars’ lineup at large will remain a game-time decision.
Fortunately for the Battlefords, they have several bodies on the back end that bring a range of diverse skillsets.
From young stay-at-home types like Tanner Scott, Ryan Granville and Noah Form, to two-way minute munchers like Matthew Fletcher and Seth Summers; the Stars also embody the physically punishing presence of Garett Johnson and Austin Shumanski.
The defence has shown the ability all season to step up in the face of adversity, and with the flu bug infiltrating the lineup as a whole, the defence and forwards alike will need to band together to find success this weekend. Tonight marks just the first of what will be back-to-back matchups Friday and Saturday against the Bombers in Flin Flon.
Up front, Stars’ center MacGregor Sinclair leads a Battlefords’ offence that ranks top five in the league in their own right, with 141 goals.
Sinclair’s 19 goals and 49 points through 42 games put the forward ninth in league scoring.
Sinclair was joined on the Stars’ top line as of late by Owen Lamb who also has 19 goals to tie for the team-lead, and Brayden Buziak, 21, who scored two goals over his last three games.
Matthias Urbanski, who ranks second on the North Stars with 39 points in 43 games, has played the last four contests alongside Elijah Loon-Stewardson and Quintin Loon-Stewardson. Quintin Loon-Stewardson sits tied for fifth amongst rookies in goals, with nine on the year.
The recent mix within the top six has allowed Ryan Gil who is fourth on the North Stars in both goals (15) and points (31), to line up to the left of Dylan Esau and Brett Gammer through the early-going of 2019.
Nineteen-year-old, Gammer, is also tied for fifth amongst rookies in goals with nine, and sits within the top 10 in rookie points with 19 through 42 games.
On the fourth unit, Kaden Boser, Austin Becker, Regan Doig and Dayton Heino have all seen some time together in differing combinations. With one or possibly more guys within the top nine group potentially out due to illness, these four may have the opportunity to make their case for a more prominent role within the lineup moving forward.
Stars’ netminder, Joel Grzybowski will likely get the start tonight.
Grzybowski looks to bounce back from a tough outing Tuesday night that saw the goaltender give up five goals against.
Ahead of Tuesday, Grzybowski stopped 55 of 58 shots over his two previous starts. The 19-year-old holds a 2.51 goals against average and .915 save percentage over a league-leading 33 starts heading into his 34th tonight.
Fans can catch tonight’s game on 1050 CJNB beginning with the pregame show at 7:15 p.m. and puck drop to follow at 7:30 p.m.
North Stars lineup at a glance
TBD – Gametime decision.
On Twitter: MartyMartyPxP1
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