The Bombers' southern road swing - and their nine-game winning streak - came to an end Saturday with a 4-2 loss to Estevan.
Fatigue and a flu bug going through the dressing room caught up with the SJHL's top team, seeing them eat just their third regulation loss of the season in the last game of the four-games-in-five-nights southern swing.
The Bombers got on the board first, but their opening marker was called back - Alexi Sylvestre went down the sideboards end-to-end on a delayed Estevan penalty, got past three Bruins players and beat goalie Jackson Miller. After a conference between officials, it was determined that the Bruins had played the puck between the penalty and the goal, thus killing the chance - replay showed the officials missed Estevan touching up, negating the goal and keeping the game scoreless.
On the ensuing powerplay, the Bombers opened the scoring anyway, with Justin Lies putting away number 35 on the season with a wrister that beat Miller clean. That goal would stand.
It would also signal the end of the night for Miller in net, as head coach Jason Tatarnic, one of the SJHL's most eccentric figures, pulled him after facing just five shots in favour of Cam Hrdlicka.
Estevan almost tied the game up with a three-on-one midway through the first, with Alex Papaspyropoulos getting a point-blank shot on a sprawling Harmon Laser-Hume, but the goalie got just enough of it to keep the puck out and freeze it. Vockler almost gave the Bombers a second goal late in the frame, but Hrdlicka came up big, sending the Bombers into the second ahead by one.
The Bruins tied the game up early in the second, as Ilia Chmelevski put a shot on net from the corner that Laser-Hume saved, but Zach Burns found loose in the crease and poked home. No other offence came until the third period, where Estevan took advantage of a tired Bomber team to take a 2-1 lead.
Blake Heward walked in from the point untouched to beat Laser-Hume with a clean wrister early in the third, giving the hosts their first lead of the night. Flin Flon was on their heels in the third period, unable to clear their own zone for minutes on end, but the offence struck late in the frame. Riley Niven carried the puck into the Bruins' zone and got pokechecked - the puck went right onto Liam Bridger's stick and he fired on Hrdlicka from distance, beating the goalie and tying things up.
The Bombers could not keep up the momentum though, as minutes later, Estevan jumped on a defensive miscue to get the lead. Adam McNutt got caught lacking carrying the puck in the defensive zone, turning the puck over to Chmelevski. Conor Ryan came in to try and cut off Chmelevski, but the forward missed him and Ryan fell into the crease, leaving Chmelevski to pop the puck in over both Ryan and Laser-Hume and into the net. That goal, coming with just over two minutes left, would be the backbreaker - Laser-Hume would be pulled with moments to go, but Papaspryopoulos scored on the empty net, pulling the curtain on what could have been a second perfect southern road trip for Flin Flon this season.
Hrdlicka saved 27 of 28 Bomber shots he faced on the night, getting the win. Laser-Hume stopped 29 shots on the night in a losing cause.
The defeat means the Bombers will not go undefeated on both of their southern swings this season - the squad did just that back in October, winning their first four-games-in-five-nights road trip. The Bombers have never won both southern swings they've had in a season in the team's modern history - Saturday's loss prevented them from making team history. All five of the Bombers' losses this season have taken place on the second game of back-to-backs.
Regardless of the loss, the Bombers are still comfortably on top of the SJHL standings with 78 points in 43 games and a 38-3-2-0 record. The Battlefords North Stars are second with 68 points in 45 games, 10 points back having played two more games.
Flin Flon played without Carter Anderson, who missed his third straight game due to illness, as well as Anthony Bax, who sat for game two of a three-game suspension.
The Bombers will have a busy week next week, starting with a date on the road with Melfort Feb. 14, then a weekend set against the North Stars Feb. 16-17.