It's far from the Christmas season, but Saturday night marks the start of a Sask Female Midget AAA Hockey League playoff series that, for the hockey fan, is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
Saturday sparks the series-opening battle between the Diamond Energy Wildcats and Regina Rebels - a series which seems to be annually among the tightest in the league.
The 2018-19 edition serves as the rubber match between these two teams, as it's the third-straight season these two teams are running into each other in a best-of-five postseason set.
The first meeting of the consecutive streak of playoff tilts was the first round of the 2016-17 season, when the fifth-seeded Wildcats upset the fourth-seeded Rebels in four games:
Game 1: Wildcats win 3-2 (Triple-OT) in Regina
Game 2: Rebels win 6-0 in Swift Current
Game 3: Wildcats win 3-2 in Regina
Game 4: Wildcats win 3-2 (Double-OT) in Swift Current
Then in 2017-18, again it was a matchup between the fifth-seeded Wildcats and fourth-seeded Rebels. This time, the nod went to Regina in their first round series, once again lasting four games:
Game 1: Rebels win 3-0 in Regina
Game 2: Rebels win 3-1 in Swift Current
Game 3: Wildcats win 3-1 in Regina
Game 4: Rebels win 3-2 (Double-OT) in Swift Current
Breaking down the numbers, to say the previous two series have been tight is a bit of an understatement.
The two teams have battled for a total of nearly nine-and-a-half hours (9:28:06).
The seven combined overtime frames spell an average game time of 1:10:48, meaning 48 seconds of double-OT have been needed per game.
Regina does lead the playoff goal differential 22-15, averaging nearly a goal-per-game more than the Wildcats (2.75 to 1.88).
Fast forward to the 2018-19 season, and just six Wildcats have carried over from the 2016-17 season to this year's series:
Meanwhile, just three Rebels have been on hand for each meeting:
Despite nearly a full turnover on the rosters, it was more of the same over four contests in the regular season:
October 13 - Rebels wins 2-1 (Shootout) in Regina
October 14 - Wildcats win 4-1 in Regina
November 17 - Rebels win 4-3 in Swift Current
November 18 - Wildcats win 5-2 in Swift Current
This season, however, it's a second-round matchup between the two teams.
The second-seeded Rebels swept the seventh-seeded Melville Prairie Fire in Round 1, while the Wildcats cruised past the sixth-seeded Battlefords Sharks in three games as well.
"It's going to be a grind, they've got a real good defensive core, they don't give up a lot of goals, so we're going to have to be patient," Wildcats head coach Terry Pavely explained after their series-clinching win over the Sharks.
"We want to wear them down, and if we play the right way and we cycle pucks, we have a chance to wear teams down."
With a spot in the league championship on the line, the Rebels carry home-ice advantage into the matchup again.
"It's going to be a game where we're going to have to gut it out for 60 minutes," said Pavely on Game 1, as well as the theme throughout the series.
"It's probably going to have to come down to where maybe a goal in the third period by either team will be the game-winner."
The series-opener goes Saturday from Co-operators Centre (C6) in the provincial capital, with the full series schedule as follows:
Game 1: March 16 - 4:45 p.m. - Co-operators Centre (C6) in Regina
Game 2: March 17 - 7:15 p.m. - Fairview West in Swift Current
Game 3: March 19 - 8 p.m. - Co-operators Centre (C6) in Regina
Game 4: March 20 - 7:15 p.m. - Fairview West in Swift Current (IF NECESSARY)
Game 5: March 22 - 8 p.m. - Co-operators Centre (C6) in Regina (IF NECESSARY)
Tune into all the Game 1 action on 'Local Sports Live', found in the Quick Links section on Swift Current Online. Pre-game is set for 4:30 p.m.