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Now bound for league final, underdog Bombers look to prove doubters wrong

April 20 will mark 30 years since the Flin Flon Bombers' last league championship. This year's team think the town has waited long enough.
S18 Bombers 1
Bomber Cole Tanchuk, flanked by out-of-action teammates Matt Egan and Rylan Thiessen, celebrates the Bombers' Game 4 win in the SJHL finals April 27.

On the night before Game 3 of the upcoming SJHL finals, one night before the Bombers host the top-seed Battlefords North Stars, Flin Flon will mark a milestone. On April 20, 1993, the Bombers won the SJHL championship. As of press time, they have not won it since - the longest stretch without a title in the team’s nearly century-long history.

Now entering their fourth run to the league title in the last six playoffs, the Bombers and their head coach, Mike Reagan, believe the time to end the drought is nigh.

“This run is similar to last year - as the playoffs went on last year, we continued to have more buy-in, the character, just how bad last year’s team wanted it. This team has done things very similar - we’re getting a lot of guys that are blocking shots and willing to pay the price,” he said.

The Bombers will play Games 1 and 2 of the series April 14 and 15 at Battlefords’ Access Communications Centre, with the series coming back to the Whitney Forum April 21-22 for Games 3 and 4. If needed, Game 5 will be at the Stars’ rink April 25, with a possible Game 6 at the Forum April 29. If both teams win three games apiece, then a Game 7 - with the title on the line - will be in North Battleford May 3.



To get here, the Bombers had to face old demons from last season in Estevan in the first round, then another team of rivals in Humboldt in round two. More information on the Humboldt series can be found in this edition of The Reminder’s sports section.

With the Bombers going into the playoffs missing all five of their top forward scorers, both team and coach were unsure of what would await them in round one. This Bomber team had 10 players who played in last year’s decisive Game 7, but the sheer amount of wounded players left the final result hanging in the balance.

“I think going into the series against Estevan, we were nervous about who was going to be available to us, just because of all the injuries that we had in the last three, four weeks of the regular season. We were just trying to bandage guys up to be able to play,” said the coach.

“We were kind of nervous about that and knew that it was going to be tough for us and challenging with the travel and everything like that. Our mindset, especially when we got out to a 2-0 lead, was to hopefully end that series early so we could try to get healthy.”

The Bruins didn’t cooperate with those plans, winning the next three games and taking a series lead, capped off with a statement overtime win in Game 5 in the Whitney Forum. Heading into a do-or-die Game 6, the Bombers pulled out all the stops, putting Cole Duperreault and Jeremi Tremblay back into the lineup after bouts of injury. The strategy worked, with Flin Flon tying the series at three wins each, then taking a Game 7 overtime win off a ridiculous stanchion bounce that made its way into the Estevan net.

That set up a series with the Humboldt Broncos in the semifinals, itself a rematch of last year’s semifinal series. Like last year, the Broncos came in favoured and had home ice advantage - and like last year, it didn’t matter, with the Bombers cleaning up in five games and reaching the finals.

The Game 3 failing in the first round was a cautionary tale for the Bombers, who went up 2-0 in the series after two big road wins. Like last year, the Bombers dropped Game 4 on home ice, but also like last year, a Game 5 road win pushed Flin Flon back into the final.

“We tried to use that as a learning lesson going into the Humboldt series and not make the same mistake. We were able to come up with a 1-0 win in Game 3. As you go along, I think you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. I understand that there's going to be certain moments in the series where you’ve got to capitalize and we weren't able to do that in the first round, but we were able to do it in the second round,” said Reagan.

“From that standpoint, I think as a team, we like the fact that we've learned our lesson. Hopefully going into this series, if we're in the same position, we make it count as well.”


The Bombers are entering the final series, for the second straight year, against a regular season juggernaut. The Battlefords North Stars ended the season ranked first in the league and second in the country, sporting a 48-5-2-1 record and 99 points - five more wins and eight more points than last year’s Estevan Bruins had despite playing two fewer games. The Stars boast league MVP and player of the year Kian Bell, who had 54 goals and 102 points in 51 games, as well as goalie of the year Josh Kotai and defenceman of the year Tynan Ewart. After losing Game 1 in the first round against Weyburn, the Stars ripped off eight straight wins, taking a five-game W against the Wings and sweeping Melfort.

The Bombers aren’t Weyburn or Melfort, however - unlike either team, the Bombers beat the Stars in regulation this year. In the season series, the Bombers went 1-2-1-0, beating the Stars 6-0 at home during Hockey Night in the North Feb. 18 and forcing them into overtime Nov. 19. The 6-0 win came without either Mercier or Tremblay in the lineup, too, with 1,367 fans in the house - likely lower than the number of fans who will come to the Whitney April 21 and 22.

“We know that we're the underdogs 100 per cent. They're a great team, they've had a season for the ages. I think that we’ve got to approach this as giving it everything we’ve got,” said Reagan.

“We believe we’re a good team. We believe we’ve played them well. I think that with everything we’ve gone through, we’re battle-tested and our guys have showed a lot of heart and character. We believe that’s a big part of who we are and we hope that we’re going to have enough of that to get the job done.”


Player performance

So far, the Bombers’ number-one-with-a-bullet MVP has been their starting goalie, Harmon Laser-Hume. In his first taste of junior hockey playoff action, the goalie has been lights-out for Flin Flon, going 8-2-2 and tied for first among all goalies in save percentage with a .945. In the five games against Humboldt, Laser-Hume stopped 171 of 180 shots, capped off by a 40-save shutout in Game 3 and a 36-save showing to send the Broncos home last week.

“I think he’s solidified himself, if he hadn’t already in the Estevan series, he’s made a statement against Humboldt that he’s one of the top goaltenders in the league and he deserves a lot of credit,” Reagan said.

“I think for him as a goalie, he's grown a lot through this playoffs and that's big. You need good goaltending to put yourself in a position to win and he’s definitely given us that.”

This Bomber team wears maroon and white, but at heart, the players’ collars are blue - blocking shots, playing physical and depth players scoring big goals are what has sent Flin Flon on. Through the first two rounds, the Bombers have scored by committee - 15 Bombers have at least one goal. Part of that is by design and part of that is by necessity. Like the way the team ended the regular season, the Bombers have once again been bit by the injury bug - top scorers Jaeden Mercier and Tremblay, the team’s second and third best scorers by points-per-game in the regular season, have missed games recently due to injuries, with Mercier missing the entire Humboldt series. The Bombers haven’t let their absences take them down - the forward core has been a “next man up” affair, with Alexi Sylvestre, Jacob Vockler and Reece Richmond taking on offensive burdens they wouldn’t normally.

Ethan Mercer leads the Bombers with six goals in 12 games, already more than the five goals he scored in the regular season. In all six games Mercer has scored in, the Bombers would end up winning.

Reagan is not revealing who will be in the press box and who will be on the ice when the series starts this weekend, but he hopes the long layoff between games will give some players a chance to heal up and go back for more.

“We’re fully expecting that, as the series goes, we should be able to get a few more guys back as well. It [injuries] definitely hasn’t been kind to us, but we try to look at this as part of the story - the adversity that you face makes you stronger,” said Reagan.

“We have the bodies that we have. If we spend too much time worrying about injuries, you’re going to find yourself out of the playoffs real quick. There’s no excuses here. You’ve got 25 guys and it’s taken 25 guys to get us here. We’ll keep grinding away with those 25 guys.”

Going into the final series, Reagan has only two things to ask from the Bomber faithful - show up and get loud.

“They've been fantastic with the continued support,” said the coach.

“I think the biggest thing is, when we come back for Game 3, we need a big crowd, whether we’re up 2-0, tied at one or down 0-2. I think the biggest turning point from last year’s playoffs was when came back after going down two-rip to Battlefords and I was expecting a small crowd. That crowd was unbelievable and we were able to win that game in overtime. Without that game, without that support, we don’t make it to the Centennial Cup. I truly believe that the crowd gives us that extra juice at times. I think it’s really important - we need a big crowd for Games 3 and 4.”

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