The Battlefords North Stars return to action tonight for the first time since the turn of the calendar to 2019, as the black and silver will cross the bridge to Battleford and welcome the division-rival Humboldt Broncos to town for a showdown at Battleford Arena.
The North Stars hold a 20-9-7 record through their first 36 games, good for 47 points on the season, just three back of the division lead.
Humboldt meanwhile, sits just two points back of the Stars for second in the Global Ag. Risk Solutions Division, albeit with the Battlefords still holding two games in hand. The Broncos’ 45 points have come thanks to a 21-14-3 record over their first 38 games played.
The two teams stack up remarkably similar lining up the stats. The North Stars rank fifth in goals for (120) and fourth in goals against (97), while Humboldt ranks seventh in goals for (110) and sixth in goals against (111). Friday night’s matchup at Battleford Arena will feature two teams trending of late, in different, if not polar-opposite directions.
The North Stars enter the weekend having solidified at least a single point in five straight (4-0-1 over the stretch) with just a single regulation loss over their last 10 going 6-1-3.
The Broncos on the other hand, have struggled as of late, entering action Friday desperately trying to snap a four-game losing skid, as the team has won just two games over their last 10 (2-8 over the stretch).
The Stars are leading offensively with their recently-formed top line featuring MacGregor Sinclair at center ice between rookie standouts Austin Becker on the left and Brett Gammer on the right.
A unit formed prior to the Stars’ home-and-home showdown with the Klippers last weekend, the trio has clicked right from the get-go, providing the team with offensive spark with already three goals and five points combined since being united, while also allowing the club to balance their veteran offensive contributors throughout the lineup.
Speaking of veteran offensive contributors, North Stars fans will see a return to action by both Braydon Buziak and Elijah Loon-Stewardson who draw back into the lineup on the team’s second line, joined by Owen Lamb who leads his team in goal scoring, with 16 tallies on the year.
Super-sophomore Matthias Urbanski has thrived as of late flanked by Ryan Gil and Dayton Heino. In the two games since Christmas, members of the “HUG line,” have proven themselves to be another prime danger offensively, demanding attention from opponents with Urbanski leading the charge, having notched a goal and two assists over his last two contests.
Dylan Esau, sandwiched between Quintin Loon-Stewardson, who also makes his return to the lineup and Regan Doig on line four, highlights the team’s depth bringing speed in addition to providing edge, with all three having shown the ability to chip in offensively as well, as evidenced by the trio’s combined 13 goals and 34 points between them.
At the other end, the North Stars will be faced with a Broncos’ attack that has been held to two goals or fewer in each of their last five games. Of course, with the offensive punch held by a number of individuals within the Broncos’ top six, the Stars’ defence must be ready, as it’s just a matter of time until the goals begin to flow once again for the unruly horses.
Humboldt is one of only four teams to boast four 30-point scorers on the year.
The Broncos’ offensive surge is spearheaded by 20-year-old centre Michael Clarke who remains just outside the top five in the league’s scoring race, having already accrued 46 points through just 37 games.
In addition to Clarke amongst the visitors’ offensive firepower is Mitch Zambon, a 6’3, 175 lbs power forward who has notched 36 points, including six in his last eight games since being acquired from La Ronge in early December. Owen Guenter, perhaps the forgotten man amongst the Broncos’ top end threats, has somewhat quietly amassed 34 points in 38 games since joining the Broncos this season after playing two seasons with the Olds Grizzlys of the AJHL.
Broncos center, Brayden Camrud rounds out the Broncos’ “big four” up front, as the veteran, despite missing seven games, has still managed to collect 33 points through his first 31 games, including showcasing his power play prowess, with a team-leading 10 goals on the man advantage, good for third-best in the league.
Tasked with shutting down that offence will be a Stars’ blue line missing their captain and key cog on the defence, Cody Spagrud, who will miss his first game of the season, due to a lower body injury.
Spagrud sits fifth amongst defencemen in scoring with 25 points on the year, while also sitting on a milestone 100 points for his junior career.
More than just the offensive contribution however, the North Stars will need their backend to band together and step up collectively to fill the hole left by the veteran in all game situations, with big minutes up for grabs.
Matthew Fletcher, the other of the team’s core pillars on defence, will take the brunt of the heavy matchups tonight, paired as per usual with Seth Summers in a prime shutdown duo that uses both speed and smarts to thwart top opposition.
Noah Form and Tanner Scott, the two most frequent of Spagrud’s partners will team up together to form another formidable shutdown unit, equal parts mobility and defensive acumen, with each player accustomed to matchups against key pieces of the opposition offence.
Austin Shumanski and Ryan Granville, both already key pieces on the penalty kill, could see increased minutes further in that regard to help chip away at the void left by #3.
Stars’ goaltender Joel Grzybowski will get the start for his team tonight between the pipes, with the 19-year-old from Hafford, Sask., will enter the action tonight. He's amongst the hottest netminders in the Saskatchewan league coming off a 38 save performance against Kindersley to end 2018. As part of a larger picture the goalie posted a combined .950 save percentage over his last eight starts going back to mid-November.
Fans can catch all of Friday’s action at Battleford Arena and on 1050 CJNB with pregame beginning at 7:15 p.m. and puck drop at 7:30 p.m.
North Stars lineup at a glance
A. Becker, M. Sinclair, B. Gammer
E. Loon-Stewardson, B. Buziak, O. Lamb
R. Gil, M. Urbanski, D. Heino
Q. Loon-Stewardson, D. Esau, R. Doig
T. Scott, N. Form
S. Summers, M. Fletcher
A. Shumanski, R. Granville
On Twitter: MartyMartyPxP1
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