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Bomber forwards Smith, Kuzma sign with college programs for next season

Both of the Bombers’ “Twin Towers” up front will be playing college hockey next season.
S24 Bomber Scholarships
Bombers Zak Smith and Drew Kuzma have both accepted college scholarships for next season.

Both of the Bombers’ “Twin Towers” up front will be playing college hockey next season.

Captain Zak Smith and Drew Kuzma both inked deals with college programs in the past week, confirming that they will play top-tier college hockey next season. Kuzma will be heading to the U.S., while Smith will stay in his homeland.

Smith will be heading out east, joining the Dalhousie Tigers USports program after captaining the Bombers this season.

Smith joined the club not long after the start of the season, coming in a deal with the MJHL’s Neepawa Titans following three years spent with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. Smith would end the regular season as the Bombers’ top scoring forward and the team’s captain, putting up 48 points in 50 games.

Smith found another gear in the playoffs, particularly in the league final. Finishing the Bombers’ 18 playoff games with 17 points, Smith put in six goals and 11 points in the seven games Flin Flon played against Estevan.

Dalhousie plays out of Halifax in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference, where they finished last season with a 11-11-1 record.

The AUS also has its own connections to Flin Flon. In that conference, Smith will play against former Bomber star Cole Rafuse and his Acadia Axemen, as well as the Univ. of New Brunswick, helmed by former Flin Flon Bomber coach Gardiner MacDougall, who has turned that program into nine-time conference champs and seven-time national champions.

 

Kuzma

Kuzma will join the inaugural NCAA Division I season for the Lindenwood Lions, becoming the third player from this past season’s Bomber club to receive a Division I deal. While Kuzma is still eligible to play junior A next season, his deal will bring him to the college this fall, meaning the hulking forward from St. Albert, Alta. may have played his final game as a Bomber.

Kuzma started this past season with the Weyburn Red Wings, putting up 20 points in 30 games with one of the SJHL’s worst-performing teams. A midseason trade brought Kuzma to the Bombers, where he went on an almost point-per-game run, putting up 24 points in 26 regular-season games, adding another 17 points in 18 playoff games (tied with Smith for the team lead) and pumping home four points in five Centennial Cup games.

Kuzma was entertaining Division I offers throughout this season, according to head coach and general manager Mike Reagan, who was still trying to work out a future considerations deal with Weyburn when news of the scholarship came in. The coach said that while the club is pleased for Kuzma to move on positively, his presence will be missed next season.

“We're extremely happy for Kuz and it's another Division I scholarship that we're able to add to the many that we've been able to get and it's good for our program to be able to move on a guy like that. Selfishly, it sucks that we're losing his services for next year. It's a bit of mixed emotions for us,” said the coach.

“Drew was going to be our number one centre. We felt that we had the best powerforward in the league, probably the best faceoff man in the league, but in saying that, we still feel that we have a very good returning forward group.”

The Bombers will maintain Kuzma’s junior A rights in case he decides to return to Canada.

“We knew there was a possibility that he was getting a Division I scholarship - we thought there were about four or five teams that were interested in him and we thought it would be for next year, down the road,” said Reagan.

“We thought he could use another year of development and that we could give them a more polished product - there’s parts of his game that need work and we thought we could do that, but the school feels he’s ready to go now.”

Smith and Kuzma join teammates Xavier Lapointe and Jeremi Tremblay as players with top-tier college scholarships - Lapointe will join the NCAA’s Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers next season, while Tremblay will go to the Sacred Heart Pioneers in 2023. Cal Schell will also play NCAA hockey, having signed on with the NCAA Division III SUNY-Oswego Lakers for next season, as will Gabriel Shipper, who is bound for Bowdoin College.

Based out of St. Charles, Missouri, Kuzma’s Lindenwood team is about to start their first year in the top division of U.S. mens’ college hockey, but the school and its hockey program are not new to success on the ice. Lindenwood has had one of the U.S.’ top mens’ club hockey teams - a team that represents the school in lower college hockey tiers, typically with no formal funding from the college - since it began in 2003, winning four U.S. national titles including one this past season. The team is coached by longtime former St. Louis Blue Rick Zombo and will join the college’s womens’ team, which has played in Division I for three seasons, in the top division.