The Flin Flon Bombers, for the time being at least, are at the top of the mountain. The team is ranked as Canada's top junior A squad this week for the first time in over two decades.
The team was listed in the CJHL’s most recent weekly top 20 rankings, put out Oct. 30, as Canada’s top-ranked junior A squad, pulling ahead of rivals both in their league and further away from home.
The Bombers have a 13-1-1-0 record on the season and lead the SJHL with 27 points out of a possible 30, having scored 79 goals in the 15 games they’ve played.
Flin Flon was ranked third in the country in last week’s rankings, which are prepared by an independent adjudicator for the CJHL, the national governing body for Canadian junior A hockey. The CJHL oversees 122 teams across nine different leagues.
Since then, both the previous top-seed Winkler Flyers from the MJHL and the OJHL’s Collingwood Blues, the former second seed, have lost games. The Bombers did too, losing Saturday in a 3-2 squeaker to the Melville Millionaires, but the team’s 3-2 win over the Mils a night previous and a win over Nipawin earlier in the week were enough to propel the team to the top. More information on the Bombers’ games last week can be found on The Reminder's website.
It is the first time the Bombers have had the number one spot in at least 20 years - the team had the number one ranking at times in the 2000-01 season, the year the club hosted the RBC Cup and finished second overall, but the team has not had that ranking ever since.
The accolades are a sign the team is on the right track, said head coach and general manager Mike Reagan, but also a sign that teams will try harder to knock them off their perch.
“I think obviously we’re pretty happy about it. It’s a nice feather in the cap - it doesn’t happen very often. I’m not sure we’ve ever been ranked number one in the country, but it’s a pretty cool thing for the organization, the community, for our players, for everybody that’s involved,” he said.
“With that comes an even bigger target on your back. I think that whenever you’ve got the record we had going into the weekend, we talked about it that as a team, everybody’s going to get up and play. You’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to understand you’re going to get everybody’s best.”
Going into the season, Reagan hoped this year would be “the season” - the year that finally ends with the Bombers hoisting a championship trophy. Whether they will or won’t will not be decided until next April, but so far, the team’s ability and achievements have impressed Reagan.
“I’m really proud of the guys. It’s not easy to do, especially when you have the travel that we do. For us to be perfect on the road, that’s a testament to the team we’ve got and the commitment the guys have made so far,” he said.
“We’re happy and proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, but we know that we can’t get too high and let things get to our heads, or else things can turn around pretty quick. There’s a lot of good teams in the league.”
“We take a lot of pride in how we do things here and we want it to be professional. We want players and parents to really appreciate being a Flin Flon Bomber and it's very evident, speaking to the parents, just how proud they are of their boys being a Bomber,” he said.
“It's nice when you hear those positive comments about the job that we're doing as an organization.”
The team has been built up further throughout the early part of the season through three big acquisitions. The Bombers acquired forward Ashton Paul from the Blizzard of the MJHL (formerly the OCN Blizzard) for cash, then swung a deal with the La Ronge Ice Wolves that sent three players, a player development fee and a bantam draft pick away for the playing rights for defender Adam McNutt. Soon after, the Bombers picked up the rights for forward Carter Anderson, who had just been released from the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders.
Both forwards have since been scoring at more than a point-per-game pace, with Anderson having scored six goals in seven games. The Bombers also still have two 2003-born players, forwards Riley Niven and Matt Egan, who have either not played or barely played so far this season due to injury - both are expected to return after the upcoming SJHL Showcase in Warman later this month.
“It makes us deeper. It makes us tougher to play against when you’ve got other weapons that we can deploy. If you look at a guy like Paulie, he’s now in his third year of junior and he’s 19. You look at McNutt and Anderson, they both played in the Western league - the grind of that league, playing with NHL draft picks and all that, they learn a lot as well,” Reagan said.
On top of that, the Bombers are doing that with a lineup heavy on northern Manitoba talent - five players in the lineup last weekend hail from northern communities. The Lies brothers, Joey and Justin, both come from Flin Flon, Anderson comes from Thompson, Paul is from The Pas and Cheechoo Lathlin is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.
That level of northern talent isn’t something the Bombers have always had - it’s something Reagan sees as a key part of the team’s success.
“It’s awesome. I think it’s great for our community, it’s great for the north. I think we’re all pretty proud of where we come from. Yes, we’re from Flin Flon, but we’re from the north - northerners have to stick together. It was pretty cool getting to speak with Andy’s parents and hearing his dad saying he didn’t know we had this kind of organization,” said Reagan.
This week’s CJHL Top 20 rankings (released Oct. 30)
1. Flin Flon Bombers (SJHL)
2. Collingwood Blues (OJHL)
3. Humboldt Broncos (SJHL)
4. Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
5. Winkler Flyers (MJHL)
6. Smiths Falls Bears (CCHL)
7. Blackfalds Bulldogs (AJHL)
8. Steinbach Pistons (MJHL)
9. Miramichi Timberwolves (MHL)
10. Dauphin Kings (MJHL)
Melville Millionaires (SJHL)
Melfort Mustangs (SJHL)