Daily Herald Staff
The Prince Albert Mintos kick off their final homestand of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League regular season on Thursday when they host the Tisdale Trojans at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
The Mintos will play three games in four nights – Moose Jaw is here Saturday and the Notre Dame Hounds are in Prince Albert on Sunday - before concluding the regular campaign with three games on the road and they are hoping that is all the time they are away from home.
Prince Albert is currently in a battle for playoff positioning with four other teams and depending on what happens in the next two weeks they could finish anywhere from first to fifth with the latter resulting in the Mintos starting the playoffs on the road.
As it stands, the Mintos are four points back of both the Notre Dame Argos and Battlefords Stars with Notre Dame having a pair of games in hand. Prince Albert is tied with Moose Jaw, but the Generals also hold a game in hand giving even more importance to Saturday’s game at the Art Hauser Centre.
The Mintos are just four points up on fifth-place Tisdale, but the Trojans have just one extra game after losing 6-2 to the Contacts in Saskatoon on Tuesday. Therefore, if Prince Albert hopes to get into that upper echelon, a win on Thursday would go a long way in separating them from the Trojans and get them home-ice advantage for at least the first round.
Playoff positioning isn’t the only thing on the Mintos’ minds these days. Getting healthy for a long post-season is equally as important.
Defenseman Braden Lozinski is a couple of weeks away from returning to the line-up as he recovers from a lower-body injury and winger Dakota Boutin also needs more time to overcome an upper-body injury.
Ryan Duret, who has missed the last three weeks with a concussion, skated with the team at practise this week and could return on Thursday against Tisdale, but one roster spot has been opened up after rookie Dalin Graham was sent home for violating team rules.
The Mintos have been using a lengthy list of affiliate players to cover these vacancies, but as other teams get ready for their playoffs, it is getting harder to bring in players on short notice.
Being shortstaffed is nothing new this year for the Mintos as they have had just a handful of games all season with a full roster. Through all of that they have managed to be one of the top teams in the league and there is nothing indicating that will change in the final two weeks of the regular season and what is expected to be a long playoff run.
With the Mintos being the host team for the Telus Cup Western Regional qualifying tournament in early April, they want to be playing as long as possible and coming in through the front door as league champions remains their primary goal.
Whether they have to do that on the road, or with home-ice advantage, in the playoffs has yet to be determined, but winning Thursday’s game will certainly go a long way towards bringing them home when the playoffs begin at the end of the month.