The SJHL handed the Estevan Bruins a heavy dose of travel in the first half of the season, and for a young Bruins team it took an unfortunate toll on their record through the first 37 games.
Entering the Christmas break, the Bruins sit 16-18-3 and trail the Yorkton Terriers by six points for the Viterra Division lead, with the Terriers holding four games in hand. The Bruins are ninth overall in the SJHL.
Two recent overtime losses to Yorkton, on December 4 and 18, sting in particular as the Bruins led in both games but allowed the Terriers to recover late in the third. The difference between winning those games in regulation and losing them in overtime is reflected in the standings.
"We're a lot better team than our record shows," said Bruins head coach and GM Chris Lewgood, "but unless you win the game and play the part you're not really a better hockey team. We need the break here."
The Bruins roared out of the gate, starting 3-0 after sweeping Melville on the opening weekend and whipping Yokrton 9-2 at Affinity Place. But the first road trip exposed some holes in the Bruins as they went 1-3 over the showcase road swing and never seemed to recover.
"Our schedule was probably the toughest in the SJHL to start the season," Lewgood said, "and it shows, but a lot of our problems weren't schedule based."
The Bruins completed every major road trip on their schedule during the first half, including two northern swings of four games in five nights. On the most recent swing, the Bruins finished 2-2, beating La Ronge and Melfort and putting a scare into a tough Flin Flon Bombers team in a 1-0 loss.
"I think a lack of routine and lots of travel played a part," Lewgood reflected, "but a lot of things we suffered with were controlable. When you take these guys we have here as individuals they're really good people and really good hockey players but we've got to come together as a team now. It's time to regroup and come back excited."
The Bruins road record prior to Christmas was a dismal 7-13-1. Their 21 road games was tied for first in the SJHL. Their home record stands starkly contrasting at 9-5-1-1, and one of those losses was at the showcase where they were the home team in name alone.
The Bruins have only eight road games left, while 13 contests will come at Affinity Place. In total, 13 of their remaining 21 games come against divisional opponents.
Leading the way for Estevan are Turner Ripplinger (16 goals, 20 assists) Michael McChesney (17 goals, 17 assists) and Bryce Platt (28 points in 29 games) Johnny Witzke leads their defensemen with 10 goals, good for first in the SJHL while Jake Heerspink paces their blueliners with 26 points in 35 games, putting him third overall in the league.
Between the pipes, Grant Boldt has seized the starting job, with a record of 8-9-1-1, a GAA of 2.57 (sixth among all goalies) and a .913 save percentage. With the trade of Jake Anthony to Dryden of the SIJHL, Boldt is expected to see most of the starts in the second half with Kadin Killpatrick serving as backup.