The Bombers' bid for national glory started off brilliantly Thursday, with Flin Flon picking a big victory over the Soo Thunderbirds.
Flin Flon came to play in their first national championship tournament game in over two decades, piling onto the NOJHL champions 6-1.
The Bombers started the offence midway through the first, with Jaxon Martens opening the scoring by going back-bar-down on Soo goalie Noah Metivier. Gabriel Shipper used his speed to create a highlight-reel assist, falling down before using his stick to scoop the puck behind him onto Martens' tape. After a Zak Smith point shot, Drew Kuzma kept the play alive and banged home a second goal, giving Flin Flon a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.
After Thunderbird forward Cole Delarosbil got a two-and-10 for a headshot on Martens, the Bombers made Soo pay, working the powerplay to perfection and seeing Jacob Vockler getting the last touch, going up 3-0 midway through the second period.
Cal Schell's shutout bid went bye-bye in the third, with a shot from the hashmarks by Soo's Michael Chaffay going in to make it 3-1, but the Bombers restored the three-goal lead on another powerplay, capitalizing on a Soo turnover and Xavier Lapointe finding paydirt on a wrister from the point.
Flin Flon extended the lead midway through the third after Jaeden Mercier dangled out a Thunderbird defenceman and swatted a slapper towards Metivier, which just squeezed through his pads and into the net. Moments later, Brett Wieschorster banked a puck in off Soo forward Dharan Cap to make it a 6-1 hockey game. A burst of late offence and shots from the Thunderbirds would prove fruitless.
Bomber captain Zak Smith was named the team's player of the game - defenceman Andrew Gibson received the same honour for the Thunderbirds. Smith recorded three points - all assists, while Mercier finished the game with a goal and three assists of his own.
Schell earned the win with a 16 save performance, while Metivier stopped 24 pucks in a losing cause.
At season's end, the Thunderbirds were ranked as Canada's seventh-best team in the CJHL Top 20 Rankings. The Bombers were not ranked.
The victory is the Bombers' first win at a national championship tournament since May 12, 2001, when the club, hosting what was then called the RBC Cup, beat the Weyburn Red Wings 4-0 to clinch a spot in the national final a day later against the Camrose Kodiaks.
It had been 7,677 days since the Bombers' last win in the tournament - for context, only four current Bomber players, forwards Brett Wieschorster and Mason Kaspick and defenders Rylan Thiessen and Cole Vardy, were alive during the Weyburn win. Forward Matt Raymond was born a week later.
Earlier on Thursday, the OJHL champion Pickering Panthers dumped on the Red Lake Miners of the SIJHL, with Pickering scoring five goals in the first period en route to a 9-2 slugfest win. The late game Thursday will be between the AJHL's Brooks Bandits - the country's number one team - and Quebec league champions Collège Français de Longueuil.
The Bombers play again Saturday at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time (5 p.m. Manitoba time) against the CCHL champion Ottawa Jr. Senators. The Senators will have played their first game of the tournament the day before against Dauphin.