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Bombers set for return to ice following two-week COVID-19-caused pause

The Flin Flon Bombers will be back in action on the road tonight after shelving several games due to lingering COVID-19 cases.
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Zak Smith celebrates a goal during the Bombers' 5-0 win over Melfort Nov. 12.

The Flin Flon Bombers will be back in action on the road tonight after shelving several games due to lingering COVID-19 cases.

Since the season restarted post-holiday break, the Bombers joined an ever-growing list of SJHL teams with COVID-19 spread. According to the SJHL, the team entered a pause of at least five days starting Jan. 8 due to COVID-19 spread. The Bombers then entered another five day period Jan. 12.

"We did have an outbreak here. That's why our game with La Ronge [Jan. 8] was postponed," Bomber head coach and general manager Mike Reagan said.

"They're all recovering here. It's just one of those things that it's pretty hard to avoid right now."

Unless further cases are found with the roster, the Bombers will start play again Jan. 18 with an away game in La Ronge, coming back to the Whitney Forum for a rematch Wednesday night.

The team has announced six dates for make-up games – the home-and-home with La Ronge, a pair of away games against Battlefords and Kindersley Jan. 24-25, another road date Feb. 8 against Melfort and another game on the road March 7 against the Mustangs.

All Bomber home games are subject to current Manitoba COVID-19 public health orders, which limit the game to having only 250 fans in the stands. All attendees must be fully vaccinated and masked. The current health orders are in place until at least Feb. 1.

In order to get into the two upcoming home games, Bombers season ticket holders must go to the team’s office on Main Street and exchange a season ticket for the game for a first-come, first-served ticket. That option is open first to season ticket holders and billet families only - tickets won’t be available at the rink itself on game day.

Since the holiday break, the Bombers have had seven games postponed - all but one game, the team's road game against the Nipawin Hawks Jan. 4. The Bombers were scheduled to play two home games this month - Jan. 22 against Melfort and Jan. 28 against La Ronge. Both games are slated to go ahead as scheduled.

The Bombers entered their first COVID-19-related pause four days after playing the Hawks. The day after the game - a 3-2 Bomber win at Nipawin's Centennial Arena - the Hawks entered a five-day pause due to positive COVID-19 cases, which was later extended until Jan. 12.

As of Jan. 18, seven of the SJHL's 12 teams have formally started or had five-day pauses due to COVID-19 spread. That includes all four teams in the Sherwood division - Melfort was the first to pause Jan. 4, with Nipawin following suit a day later. La Ronge hit pause on Jan. 11, four days after playing Yorkton, which themselves paused operations Jan. 12.

Two of the four teams in the Sherwood division - the Melfort Mustangs and Nipawin - have played games since their pauses were announced. The three teams outside the Sherwood division that paused - Estevan and Notre Dame, which both paused Jan. 10, and Yorkton - have not played since their respective pauses. League-wide, three of the five games originally scheduled for Jan. 14 were postponed - only a Humboldt-Melfort game (Melfort's first game post-pause) and a Battlefords-Kindersley game were played.

Current rules for the SJHL mandated that all players, as well as coaches, scouts, trainers, equipment managers and on- and off-ice officials, were to have a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 15, 2021. The league has not announced any policies regarding third doses, which dozens of scientific studies show are more efficient at combating the fast-spreading omicron variant than two doses.

Back in the offseason, Reagan said that all Bomber players would need to be fully vaccinated to play for the team, long before the SJHL itself issued its own policy. The coach said some players had minor symptoms, but most were asymptomatic.

"There's some guys that do have some symptoms, but they've recovered pretty quick. The guys who are tested negative are still practicing right now," Reagan said.