This year’s junior A roster deadline day has come and gone - and it’s brought some changes for the Flin Flon Bombers.
The Bombers made moves in the days leading up to the Jan. 10 deadline, beefing up the forward group while bringing in a second goalie.
First, the Bombers snapped up power-forward Drew Kuzma from the Weyburn Red Wings Jan. 5. Along with Kuzma, the Bombers will pick up a fourth-round pick in this year's SJHL 2006-born player draft - the team gave away a player development fee, a second-round pick in the same draft and future considerations.
Kuzma played with the Bombers Jan. 4, putting up no points but grabbing 12 penalty minutes.
In 30 games with the SJHL’s resident cellar dweller, Kuzma had nine goals and 20 points. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound St. Albert, Alta. native is known for his physical play, two-way game and faceoff taking abilities and is eligible to play for the Bombers next season. Kuzma turned heads earlier this season as the Red Wings beat the Bombers at the Whitney Forum, winning key faceoffs and chipping in an assist for an undermanned Weyburn team.
“He’s a good player. He’s gritty. He’s going to be a playoff-type guy. We’re pretty happy with that acquisition,” said Reagan.
“I thought he was really good for them. That was kind of icing on the cake, as far as wanting him - we’d liked him before, but I thought he was their best player in that weekend series.”
Another deal was finalized Jan. 5, as forward Nathan Gagne was shipped far out of town - all the way down to the US/Mexico border. Gagne was dealt to the NAHL's El Paso Rhinos for a player development fee. Gagne was sent home by the team ahead of the holiday break - before being sent away, Gagne had 21 points and 11 goals in 29 games.
The Bombers had only one goalie on the roster before the last day to deal, as backup Max Hildebrand was recalled by the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders for the rest of the season earlier this month. Cal Schell was the only man left in the Bombers’ crease full-time - for the team’s Jan. 4 game in Nipawin, affiliate player Cody Wilson of the Tisdale Trojans sat in as the Bombers’ backup.
"That wasn't exactly an ideal situation for us," said Reagan, referring to having only one full-time goalie.
The team's top priority in the market was finding another goalie - Reagan said the team had as many as eight possible netminders on their shopping list heading into the day.
On deadline day, the Bombers found a new netminder in Ben Montgomery, a 2002-born goalie from Hamilton, Ont., acquiring him from the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL for future considerations.
"At the end of the day, we felt Ben not only was a guy who would be happy about coming here, but that he beat Penticton - probably one of the top teams in Canada. For us, that played a part in our decision to pick him up," Reagan said.
Montgomery, a 6-foot-2, 174 pound netminder, was one of four goalies in the Capitals’ program this season. In seven games in arguably Canada’s top junior A loop with the Capitals, Montgomery has a 4.13 goals-against-average and a .882 save percentage.
According to the BCHL, Montgomery hasn’t played since Nov. 12.
"We were confident he would report and would be happy about being here - good character guy, wants to be part of a team who's contending," Reagan said.
To cap off the day, the Bombers picked up another Cowichan castaway in forward Ethan Anstey, sent to the Bombers for a player development fee. Anstey, a 2002-born centre who hails from Yellowknife, N.W.T., has three points in 27 games with the Capitals this season and is a product of the prestigious Shawnigan Lake School prep program in B.C.
Reagan said that Anstey had been on the team's radar for some time as a good prospect, likening his two-way game to former Bomber forward Caleb Franklin.
"We watched a ton of video on him and we feel he's going to bring a lot of things that Caleb Franklin brought for us a couple years ago - plays a 200-foot game, plays with energy, high compete level, very good skater, good skills," Reagan said.
"We thought he's a guy who's capable of doing a bit more than what he did in B.C. We feel he's got a lot of upside and can provide us with some depth scoring and make us a tougher team to play against. His game is very energetic, high character."
The Bombers almost brought in a third player from out west - Reagan did not identify the player other that to say he was a "big power-forward type." The deal was almost done, until Reagan was told at the eleventh hour that the player would not report to Flin Flon if dealt, nixing the move.
"We had acquired another forward at the deadline as well - he decided he wasn't going to report. We were looking for two forwards. We're disappointed he decided not to come," Reagan said.
Flin Flon bid farewell to a trio of players in the run-up to the final deadline, seeing a pair of defenders and a forward fly the coop. Defenceman Noah Kuntz has left the team and junior A hockey entirely for now, moving back to his hometown of Regina. Kuntz will continue to play hockey, but in the junior B Prairie Junior Hockey League (PJHL) with the Regina Silver Foxes.
The 2002-born Kuntz played 22 total games with the Bombers over the past three seasons, including 17 games this season, in which he tallied one assist. This season, Kuntz has been hampered by a lingering injury.
"It was really tough on him," Reagan said.
While in his hometown, Kuntz has enrolled at the University of Regina.
"He's a guy who places a very high value on education and with him not feeling 100 per cent, he felt it was best that he goes to school right now," Reagan said.
"We believe we have a very deep D core and at times throughout the year, it's been difficult to get eight defencemen enough ice time to keep them happy and develop."
In that league, Kuntz may face off with now-former teammate Mackenzie Carson. The forward was sent down to the PJHL's Carrot River Outback Thunder (his hometown team) by the Bombers on deadline day. Carson started the season late after breaking his hand in preseason, but the 2002-born Carrot River native had three goals in nine games with the Bombers before the deadline. After a full season away due to the pandemic and the early season injury, Carson was left as the odd man out when the Bombers added another forward.
"When we acquired Ethan [Anstey], we knew we weren't going to be able to get Mack in the lineup," Reagan said.
A deal was reached to send Carson's rights to another SJHL team, but Carson did not report, choosing instead to return home and play for the Outback Thunder.
"He just felt right now that his heart isn't in the game as much as it needs to be in order to play at this level and he chose to play junior B with his friends," Reagan said.
Flin Flon will keep both players' junior A rights for the rest of the season as affiliate players, with either being able to be called up to the team - particularly Kuntz.
"He [Kuntz] has made it clear to us that if we run into injuries, he'll be more than happy to play with us - if we need him, he'd be happy to play with us," said Reagan.
The Bombers also swung a deal with the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks, sending defender Ethan McColm to Alberta for future considerations and a player development fee. McColm suited up for the Bombers for 21 games this season, putting in one goal and seven points. The Oakbank, Man. D-man had been on the outside looking in for the Bombers’ lineup as of late, having played his last game Dec. 7.
McColm was, like Carson up front, the odd man out of the D group - Reagan said that McColm deserved regular ice time, which he thinks he'll get in Calgary.
"With Rylan Thiessen coming to us, that gave us nine defencemen [before Kuntz went south] and no team is going to carry nine defencemen, especially when you've got the quality of D that we have," Reagan said.
"it's hard enough to find a time for seven guys, let alone eight, and knowing that Kuntz will be available if need be it that's what led to the decision to move McColm. He deserves to be an everyday guy at 19, he's an everyday defenceman and we felt this was a good move for him and we're still comfortable with our situation on the backend."
In the deal, the Bombers also acquired a goaltender as a paper move - the player was waived and will not report to the Bombers.
With Kuzma, Montgomery and Anstey in, Gagne and McColm out and Carson and Kuntz playing elsewhere but staying listed, the Bombers will enter the stretch run with 15 forwards, eight defencemen and two goalies on the roster, not including Carson or Kuntz. Jordan Pfoh, who is currently listed as a forward on the SJHL website, can play both forward and defence if needed.
That group will include eight 2001-born players - goalie Schell, defencemen Cole Vardy and Rylan Thiessen and forwards Gabe Shipper, Matt Raymond, Mason Kaspick, Brett Wieschorster and Zak Smith.
Throughout the SJHL, teams were busy ahead of the deadline, particularly in the Sherwood division.
La Ronge picked up 2001-born forward Parker Fofonoff from the Dauphin Kings, 2001-born D-man Mkyllan Couture from Nipawin and defender Matt Smith from the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks, while dealing away defender Tristan Lambert to the Canucks and getting cash for forwards Anthony Oviedo and Logan Gallaher from the SIJHL’s Kam River Fighting Walleye.
The Nipawin Hawks also went fishin’ with Kam River, sending them former Bomber defenceman Jack Michell for cash, while trading forward Andrew Schaab to Kindersley and picking up cash and a number of 2003-born players in different deals.
Melfort flipped a 20-year-old forward, picking up Danny Ciccarello from Salmon Arm in the BCHL for future considerations Jan. 8 and dealing him away to the AJHL’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons two days later for forward Clarke Huxley and cash. The Mustangs also traded defender Damon Byers to Estevan for cash and picked up Cameron Emigh from Bonnyville in the AJHL for a fee.
The Battlefords North Stars brought back 20-year-old goalie Austin Schwab from the NAHL, then dealing now-superfluous goalie Ulrik Roussel to the MHL’s Campbellton Tigers for cash.