The Bombers made maybe the biggest splash in the league during a quiet SJHL roster deadline last week, moving a stalwart forward and cash for two new forwards.
Flin Flon’s deadline dealings started with a blockbuster Jan. 9, with the Bombers and Millionaires swapping 20-year-old forwards. The Bombers sent Jaxon Martens to the Mils in exchange for their captain, Zach Cain. The deal will also include a conditional draft pick and future considerations - while neither team has confirmed what those conditions are, they are believed to be tied to both teams’ playoff performance this year. According to the SJHL website, Melville will receive a pick from the Bombers this year.
"We love Jaxon - he was a good player for us. It's not always about how many points you put up. There's some intangibles that we felt Cain had... everything that we've done is to try to build a team for the playoffs, not just the regular season," said Bomber head coach and general manager Mike Reagan.
"For one, Cain is a penalty killer. He's versatile, he can play centre or the wing. He's a gritty, physical guy. He brings a physical presence as well as being able to produce offence."
Martens was well into his second full year as a Bomber, making the team out of camp for the cancelled 2020/21 season and both of the last two years. In 33 games this year, the centre had 29 points in his final junior A season before aging out - he had 75 total points in 91 games in maroon and white. Originally from Warman, Sask., Martens spent most of this season playing on either of the team’s top two lines.
Martens will have a familiar face with him in Melville - namely, Ethan Anstey, who joined the team from the Bombers in a separate trade earlier this season. Both players were part of last year’s team through playoffs and at the Centennial Cup, where Anstey and Martens both suited up.
"This is not to take anything away from Marty. He's a good, offensive-minded player. We feel that Cain is probably just a bit better as a 200-foot player and brings some other things to the table," Reagan said.
"We feel like we didn't lose any of the offensive output, but we gained in other areas that we think are going to be beneficial come playoff time."
A player like Martens is not easy to move or replace, but Cain put together a solid career as a Millionaire. Cain had 34 points in 32 games this season with Melville and 62 points in 63 total games over the past two years. The winger, originally from Pilot Butte, Sask., comes to Flin Flon hoping to shake off a long cold streak, where he had three points over his last 11 games in Melville and just one goal since Nov. 11.
Cain has a family connection to the last team that brought a title to Flin Flon - his uncle Aaron was a part of the 1992-93 Bomber team that last won the SJHL championship, ironically beating the Millionaires in a decisive seventh game to do it. Aaron took a three-year career with the Bombers - including a year where he led the team in scoring and was a league all-star - and turned it into a scholarship with NCAA Division I Northern Michigan and a professional career in the U.S. and U.K.
With his new team, Zach will wear number 18 - the same number both his uncle and Martens wore during their time in maroon and white.
In three games played with the Bombers since the trade, Cain ended that cold streak, scoring against Kindersley Jan. 13. Martens also has scored twice in the three games he’s played in since the trade. The two teams are not scheduled to play each other again this season - the Bombers already swept the season series by winning all five games.
The Bombers didn’t announce any moves until well into the night Jan. 10, finally sharing the news of only one trade, picking up centre Barron Stibbe from the NAHL’s Aberdeen Wings. Originally from Fargo, N.D., Stibbe’s rights were picked up for a player development fee - a rare international trade, the first of its kind between an SJHL team and an American team since the Bombers moved Nathan Gagne to the NAHL’s El Paso Rhinos last year.
Stibbe stands 5-foot-9, 175 pounds and is eligible to return to the Bombers next season. He scored five points in 18 games with the Wings, where he briefly played with current Bomber Jacob Vockler.
Reagan said he found out Stibbe would be available from an old, unnamed contact and was impressed with his hard-working play. One of Reagan's priorities was to build up the team's depth, saying the new North Dakotan would help that goal.
"We did some homework on him and watched him and found his will to win is high, his compete level too - he is not going to cheat you with effort," Reagan said.
"We wanted to acquire another forward - we wanted to make sure that we had one more forward come in to help with the depth of our team. When we look at last year, you know in the league final, we had lost Cole Vardy, Mason Kaspick and Rylan Thiessen all around the same time - you can never have too much depth. We wanted to bring in a guy that was going to help with that and play with a lot of energy. He checked off a lot of the boxes."
Before heading to the NAHL, Stibbe was a star in North Dakota high school hockey, being named to the all-state team and leading his team in scoring as a senior. With the Davies High School Eagles last year, Stibbe was team captain and a goal-per-game player, scoring 31 times in 27 games, ending the season with 48 points and reaching the state championships.
No players were cut from the Bombers during the deadline, Reagan said. The team still maintains the rights of 20-year-old defenceman Noah Kuntz, who has played this season in junior B hockey with the Regina Silver Foxes, as an emergency call-up option.
Few trades took place between the post-holiday trade thaw and the deadline, most of which were one player moving for either cash, future considerations or a bantam draft pick.
The Sherwood division was mostly quiet, with Nipawin dealing forward Jovan Malay to Ontario for cash, but Melfort brought in a possible thorn in the side of the Bombers - one of their former teammates. The Mustangs sent forward Alex Mack to Kindersley in exchange for Wyatt Cook, who played 16 games with the Bombers before being dealt to Kindersley Nov. 29. Known as a possible offensive threat with a hard-nosed game, Cook put up an assist in his first game as a Mustang Jan. 13, an 8-4 win over a Humboldt team that beat Flin Flon a night earlier - then he got in a fight in the third period and picked up 15 penalty minutes for his trouble.
Melville was one of most active teams in the league, moving Cain to Flin Flon, defender Kayden Skulmoski to the MJHL’s Niverville Nighthawks and leading scorer Noah Wills to Alberta’s Sherwood Park Crusaders. In return for moving the three pillars, the Mils got Martens, a pair of player development fees for Skulmoski and Wills, the conditional pick from Flin Flon and future considerations from Sherwood Park. Melville also moved a second-round pick in this year’s SJHL draft to Melfort for 17-year-old forward Zach Bansley.
Weyburn made five deals in the run-up, each involving cash or picks. The Wings moved forward Sam Skillestad to AJHL Calgary for cash, D-man Sam Boldt to MJHL Dauphin for cash, forward Ethan Whillans to Niverville for cash and goalie Boston Gelowitz to Battlefords for a 5th round bantam draft pick. The Wings only brought in one player, forward Carter Briltz, picked up from La Ronge for cash - the only deal the Ice Wolves made.