The Estevan Bruins played their final home game of the regular season on Wednesday, but it would be the Melville Millionaires playing spoiler on this night at Affinity Place.
The Bruins came into the game needing just a single point, either by win or OT/SO loss, to secure the 6th seed in the SJHL standings heading into playoffs. Melville has already been eliminated from playoff contention, but they gave the Bruins all they could handle in this game.
The Millionaires seemed to stun the Bruins in the early going, scoring twice in the first 5:00 to jump out ahead 2-0 and then adding another pair of goals before the intermission to lead 4-0 after the 1st period. Shots were 16-11 Melville after the opening frame.
The Bruins would get back into the game in the 2nd period, as Kade Runke scored his team-leading 26th goal of the year at the 2:31 mark to cut the lead to 4-1. Cody Davis and Ilia Chmelevski assisted on the goal, however Melville would answer back just 30 seconds later as Tucker Buhay capped off a hat trick to make it a 5-1 game.
The Bruins would respond less than two minutes later while shorthanded, as a good forecheck from Sal Collara brought the puck out front to Keagon Little as he scored his 6th of the year to make it 5-2. Robbie Stewart also assisted on the goal at the 4:42 mark. Then at 11:09, Tim Tychonick came through the slot and fired a backhander off the crossbar and in for his 5th of the season to make it 5-3 after two periods. Gabriel Filion and Holdin Getzlaf assisted.
The Bruins would have heavy pressure in the 3rd period but were unable to close the gap until the final minutes. At the 16:29 mark, Chmelevski fired a shot that ricocheted into the net for his 6th of the year to trim the deficit to 5-4. Jag Phangura and Little assisted on the marker. The Bruins would pull the goalie late for the extra attacker, but were unable to find the equalizer and force overtime for the single point leading to a 5-4 loss to Melville.
Cam Hrdlicka (15/19) was tagged with the loss in net, while Jackson Miller (9/10) played the last 8:39 of the 1st period after the Bruins’ sluggish start. Ethan Rau (35/39) earned the win for Melville.
The Bruins were shut down on the powerplay going (0/3), but did score a shorthanded goal thanks to Keagon Little’s 2nd period marker. Melville went (1/2) on the man advantage.
With the loss, the Bruins (27-23-3-2) still haven’t solidified their playoff seeding with only one game remaining in the regular season. Nipawin (26-23-5-1) is just one point behind the Bruins and also have one game left, hosting Melfort on Friday night. If the two teams are tied in points at the end of the season, Estevan will finish 6th as the Bruins will have more regulation & overtime wins (ROW) than Nipawin. The Bruins currently have 25 ROW, while Nipawin has 22 ROW.
However, the Bruins did get some help from out-of-town on Wednesday as Humboldt defeated Weyburn 6-3. That loss for Weyburn (25-26-2-1) ensured that Estevan can finish no lower than 7th and in fact, clinched the Viterra Division title for the Bruins in an anti-climatic fashion. It’s the 5th Viterra Division title in the last 6 complete seasons for the Bruins.
The Bruins will close out their regular season schedule on Saturday night in Weyburn at 7pm. Weyburn cannot move up in the standings and will finish 8th overall, while Nipawin’s result on Friday will determine if the Bruins have any playoff seeding consequences to play for on Saturday night.
As far as playoffs are concerned, the Bruins will either face the Humboldt Broncos or Flin Flon Bombers in the opening round which will begin next weekend on March 17th. Humboldt (77PTS) is currently 2nd overall and has three games remaining, while Flin Flon (76PTS) is 3rd overall and has two games remaining. Flin Flon will face La Ronge in a home-and-home to end the season, while Humboldt will play a home-and-home against Yorkton and a final game against Notre Dame.
If the standings hold as they are, it will be a rematch of last year’s SJHL championship final with the Bruins taking on Flin Flon in the opening round.