The Estevan Bruins have clinched a post-season birth.
Estevan wrapped up their playoff spot on Wednesday night, when the La Ronge Ice Wolves beat the Flin Flon Bombers 8-3.
La Ronge and Flin Flon are the two teams currently on the outside looking in for the SJHL's playoff picture. Flin Flon has 42 points and six games remaining; the most they can finish with is 54 points.
The Ice Wolves have 41 points and seven games remaining. They can finish with a maximum of 55 points.
Estevan has 56 points. As of right now, they are the league's seventh seed, which would leave them playing a best-of-five Survivor Series match-up in the first round of the playoffs.
The Bruins won just once in their final three-game road trip of the season, but what a win it was.
Estevan opened the road trip with a 5-1 loss to the Kindersley Klippers on February 7, and lost another 5-1 game to the Humboldt Broncos two nights later. But sandwiched between the defeats was a 7-6 shootout win over the Battlefords North Stars that ended the Stars' 13-game winning streak.
Tanner Froese had the Bruins' lone goal in the game against Kindersley. It came early in the first, and gave Estevan a 1-0 lead. But the Klippers scored three times in the second and twice in the third.
"We were okay in the first period," said head coach-GM Chris Lewgood. "It was so-so. It wasn't a bad effort, but it seemed like once we were scored on, the momentum shifted heavily, and our guys weren't able to mentally respond."
Matt Gibney stopped 46 shots in the loss.
The following night, the Bruins were down 5-1 after the first period against the North Stars. Facing long odds against a team that had won 13 straight, and a goalie who allows less than two goals a game, the Bruins scored four times in 13 minutes in the second period to tie the game at 5-5.
Battlefords scored late in the second to take a one-goal lead, but Ben Johnstone's short-handed goal with under six minutes to play in the game knotted the score again.
Overtime settled nothing, and the Bruins outscored the North Stars 2-1 in the shootout to win. Michael Sagen and Austin Daae had the shootout goals.
"It was one of the most exciting games I've been a part of," said Lewgood.
Daae also scored in regulation and added four assists. Cory Kosloski had a goal and three assists, and Froese scored twice.
Keegan Allison had the other goal.
Brett Lewchuk started, but was pulled after allowing three goals on 13 shots. Gibney stopped 31 of the 34 shots he faced.
"Considering it was 5-1 after one, I think our guys had the right mindset going into the second," Lewgood said. "I don't credit to a big speech … the only thing I really told them is that we've all heard of big comebacks and unlikely comebacks and those great stories, and I just reminded them that the teams that get the opportunity to take part in those are not teams that … fold the tent. It's the teams that work hard and play with pride.”
Johnstone had Estevan’s only goal against Humboldt – a power-play tally late in the second that made the score 3-1.
Gibney stopped 35 shots in the loss.
Lewgood said his team "ran out of gas" against Humboldt.
"Mentally and physically we were so fatigued that we just couldn't get it going," said Lewgood.
It was a key game in the standings. Estevan and Humboldt were tied for the sixth seed in the league's playoff standings entering the contest. The top six seeds get a first round bye in the playoffs.
Lewgood said that the team's defensive play was an issue during the road trip, particularly against Kindersley and Humboldt, and it's something they need to improve upon.
Estevan's record is 24-17-3-5. They'll host the Notre Dame Hounds on February 13, and the Klippers on the 15th. Both games are at 7:30 p.m. Then they'll visit the Melville Millionaires on February 18.
In other news, Froese was named the SJHL Player of the Week for February 3 to 9. Froese had five goals in four games, and he played against the Battlefords and Humboldt despite losing several teeth against Kindersley.