Despite the best efforts of the maroon and white, the Bombers' run for an SJHL title ended Saturday in defeat.
The Battlefords North Stars put up a 7-4 win in a decisive Game 4, sweeping the Bombers and winning the Canterra Seeds Cup.
The Bombers came out of the gate hot in a must-win game, opening the scoring for the second time in the series. Less than six minutes into the game, Jacob Vockler was sprung in on a breakaway and got a shot off while being taken down by the Stars' Jordan Grill. That shot, taken while Vockler was falling to the ice, got past Kotai, giving Flin Flon an early 1-0 lead. On a night where the jersey of Bomber captain Lucas Fry, out after a skate cut injury he suffered in Game 1, was hung up behind the Bomber bench, Flin Flon was out ahead early.
That lead would be shortlived. With Reece Richmond in the box having taken the Bombers' first penalty of the game, a point shot by Holden Doell was tipped in front by Steven Kesslering, tying things up. That state would not last long though, as Alexi Sylvestre would pull up from distance and go high glove on Kotai, beating the goalie and restoring the Bombers' lead.
That, unfortunately for Bomber fans, would be as good as it got.
The Stars came back later in the frame during a 4-on-4 stretch, ending with Grill coming in on Harmon Laser-Hume's left side and beating him short side, tying the game.
Late in the first, a horrific Bomber turnover would prove costly, as the Stars' Keiton Klein would pick up a puck wide open in the high slot and take a clapper at Laser-Hume without contest. The shot would miss, but Grill would be nearby to score on the rebound. The Stars would take their first lead of the game - and they would continue to lead, in some form or another, until the final whistle.
In the second, the Stars extended the lead, with Colby Bear putting in his third goal of the series to make it 4-2 Stars. The Bombers would almost fall further behind with Noah Houle going to the box, but Flin Flon would kill the penalty off and spring Houle in on a breakaway once his penalty expired. Kotai would be down and out on the ice to stop Houle's chance, but the goalie proved up to the task.
The Bombers would get other chances, including a slapshot by Jeremi Tremblay that would be knocked away, before Houle was sent to the box again on a cross-checking call, despite having had his stick knocked out of his hands earlier in the play by a Stars defender.
That penalty would be a backbreaker for the Bombers. Richmond kept the Stars from going ahead by three with a desperation goalline clearance, but soon after, Kesslering would fire the eventual championship winner into the net with Laser-Hume stretched out after scrambling to stay in position.
The Bombers would get their first powerplay of the game with Jake Southgate going to the box, but the team's recent powerplay futility streak would continue, making it 27 straight powerplays without a goal dating back to the team's previous series. The Stars would go back the other way and have chances of their own from Riley Girod and Wilson Steele, both of which would be stopped by Laser-Hume.
The Bombers would finish the second period ahead of the Stars in shots 31-26, but the Stars had outchanced the Bombers through the period. When the whistle blew on the end of the second period, the visitors were up 5-2 and the only horns to be heard in the Whitney Forum were those sounded by Stars fans.
Flin Flon would not go gently into that goodnight however - the team raged against the dying of their season in the third, pelting Kotai with 18 shots. The Stars would extend the lead early on, with Doell taking advantage of a 4-on-4 once again to beat Laser-Hume, celebrating halfway up the ice, but the Bombers showed fight.
A mid-third period powerplay brought the Bombers' power unit onto the ice and, in a change from recent trends, would pay dividends. Sylvestre, arguably the Bombers' best forward both in the final series and throughout the playoffs, would end up behind Kotai in a scramble in the crease, with the puck at his feet. The forward knocked the puck in with his stick and got his second goal of the night - and the Bombers' first powerplay goal in 28 tries.
Despite the flurry of shots, little more success would come the Bombers' way. In a cruel twist of fate, the team got a late chance with less than five minutes to go off a clearing attempt that deflected off a stanchion in the glass and toward the Stars' net, similar to the goal Cole Duperreault scored in Game 7 overtime back in the opening round. Unlike Duperreault's winner, though, the puck bobbled its way into the slot, where Kotai stopped it and swept it away.
With 1:19 on the clock, Sylvestre completed the hat-trick, banging the puck away in front and getting it through Kotai's legs, bringing the Bombers within two. With their playoff lives on the line, the Bombers pulled Laser-Hume for an extra attacker, but that backfired quickly, with Kian Bell firing in an empty-net goal to ice the game, the series and, moments later, the league championship.
Stars players mobbed Kotai following the final whistle and celebrated with custom hats for the occasion, while a large travelling contingent of Stars fans cheered them on. For the second season in a row, the Bombers would have to watch from their own side of the ice while the champs celebrated.
Kesslering was named playoff MVP and Southgate got to celebrate with the Canterra Seeds Cup, hoisting it high and sharing it with his teammates. The Stars' players and staff each took laps with the trophy in front of a crowd of dignitaries, including SJHL commissioner Kyle MacIntyre and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, while U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" played on the Whitney Forum PA system - a fitting epitaph for a Bomber team now 30 years removed from its last title.
Included in the victory celebration was former Bomber assistant coach Garry Childerhose, who worked this season as an assistant coach with the Stars. Childerhose and Bomber head coach and general manager Mike Reagan, who worked together with the Bombers for five seasons, exchanged messages of congratulations and a hug in the post-game handshake line.
The Bombers shook hands with the victors and headed off the ice, some greeted by loved ones and former teammates. Richmond was greeted by his older brother, former Bomber defender Ryder, who had travelled north to see Reece play what would be his final junior A game. Others were greeted by Fry, who was in attendance with his arm bandaged, including Duperreault - who, for one last time, had a post-game bearhug with Fry following a devastating loss.
The loss ends the junior A career of eight Bomber players, each of whom have now aged out from CJHL eligibility - forwards Zach Cain, Duperreault, Ethan Mercer and Jaeden Mercier, as well as defenders Fry, Cory King, Richmond and Alex Von Sprecken.