It figures to be the biggest regular season game to date, but the Saugeen Shores Winterhawks have a little business to take care of in the meantime.
The Winterhawks are riding high on a 13-game winning streak and in 1st place as they enter the weekend, with two home games on the horizon.
The 2nd place Mapleton-Minto 81’s will visit The Plex for a showdown on Saturday, January 7th, but first, the Winterhawks must duel with the Lucknow Lancers on Friday night.
Head Coach Jim Grieve says his team can’t look past the Lancers, no matter what their record says.
It has been a struggle for the Lancers, who sit in 13th place with a record of 2-11-2 on the season.
In particular, scoring goals has hurt the Lancers as they have the fewest goals scored of any team in the league, finding the back of the net just 42 times in 15 games thus far.
Still, Lucknow’s offensive attack has been bolstered in recent weeks with the return of captain Ean Moffat, who had missed the majority of the season.
Since Moffat’s return, the Lancers have improve their output, including a three-point effort from Moffat on Dec. 30th in a 5-4 shootout loss in Ripley.
Grieve admits even he catches himself looking ahead to Saturday’s tilt with Mapleton-Minto.
“It creeps into your mind, but as soon as it does, you try and knock it out of there,” said Grieve. “We’re telling the guys to focus on the [Lucknow] game and make sure we’re competing and executing and carrying that over into [Saturday].”
Regardless of Friday’s result, the Winterhawks will enter Saturday night’s game against Mapleton-Minto with at least a two-point cushion.
The 13-1-0 Winterhawks enter the weekend four points up on Mapleton-Minto, who at 11-1-0 have played two fewer games.
While the Winterhawks are duelling with the Lancers in Port Elgin, Mapleton-Minto will be trying to reel in the Muskies in Shelburne.
If they want to get past Mapleton-Minto and take a stranglehold on 1st place, Grieve pointed to the powerplay as an area that needs to improve.
The Winterhawks enter the weekend ranked 11th with the extra man, converting on 10.9% of their powerplay opportunities and Grieve admits they need to keep looking for a solution.
“Oh definitely, something different does have to happen, we’ve been working on different things but nothing seems to be clicking yet,” said Grieve. “We’ll just keep plugging away and one of these days [the puck] will start going in and then they won’t stop going in.”
Defensively, the Winterhawks remain the toughest team to score on in the league, holding opponents to two goals or less in 10 of 14 games so far this season.
The two titans have not met yet this season, as an earlier scheduled game in Drayton was postponed due to weather, though the Winterhawks will be looking to avenge their playoff disappointment last spring at the hands of the 81’s.
Also looming is the playoff roster deadline, as the WOAA requires teams to cut down to a 26-man playoff roster (23 skaters, 3 goaltenders) by January 10th.
It means tough decisions will have to be made and Grieve says the coaching staff and management will be involved in that process.
“We do it by committee, everybody gets their say and yes, we do have tough decisions,” said Grieve. “We have 32 players signed right now, so there’s a few decisions to make, all for the good of the team.”
The Winterhawks host the Lucknow Lancers on Friday night at 8:30 p.m., followed by the Mapleton-Minto 81’s on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., both games are at The Plex.