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Bombers switch up roster, schedule as team returns from holiday break

The Bombers may not have restarted their season as originally planned last week, but the season continues on ahead of the Jan. 10 roster deadline.
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Humboldt's Noah Barlage and Flin Flon's Brett Wieschorster battle for the puck behind the Humboldt net during the teams' Dec. 3 game at the Whitney Forum.

The Bombers may not have restarted their season as originally planned last week, but the season continues on ahead of the Jan. 10 roster deadline.

Both the team’s Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 matchups with La Ronge were postponed, bumping the restart of the season to Jan. 4, when the Bombers beat Nipawin on the road 3-2.

The Jan. 1 road game in La Ronge has been rescheduled and will be played Jan. 8. No new date has been announced for the Bombers' Dec. 31 home date against the Ice Wolves.

The Bombers' first two games were postponed due to what head coach and general manager Mike Reagan described as a stringent COVID-19 testing regiment for players coming back to the north.

“What we wanted as an organization was to make sure that everybody was coming back to town with a negative test - at least three of them. In order to do that, we had to delay the weekend games because I wanted them testing before they got to Flin Flon. It was impossible for us to play those games if we wanted to have three days of testing,” said Reagan.

“It was more about us trying to be responsible to the community and our billets - they’re taking a big risk by having people in their homes with our guys travelling all over the place. It was better to delay those two games and feel confident that we were doing our part.”

All the players have made their way back up north and most will be ready to play this week. A handful of players - defenders Lucas Fry and Noah Kuntz and forwards Mason Kaspick and Gabe Shipper - are out with injuries, but Jaeden Mercier is still likely to return to the lineup.

With less than a week to go before the CJHL’s Jan. 10 roster freeze, the Bombers have already made two changes ahead of the deadline, picking up power-forward Drew Kuzma from the Weyburn Red Wings. 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.

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.

Kuzma had already made it to Flin Flon before the trade was officially finalized, ready to play for the Bombers on the road Tuesday night.

“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 are also now down to one goalie, as backup Max Hildebrand has been called up by the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders for the remainder of the season. Hildebrand already has joined the team and backed up Raiders starter Tikhon Chaika in the team’s Jan. 2 game.

The 6-foot-1, 2004-born ‘tender from Martensville played nine games in maroon and white this season, going 5-4 with a 3.24 goals-against-average and .889 save percentage. Hildebrand was a fourth-round pick of the Bombers in the 2019 SJHL bantam draft.

With Hildebrand gone, the Bombers now have only one goalie on the roster - 20-year-old stalwart Cal Schell. Schell has four shutout wins this season and a .917 save percentage on the year. 

As of Wednesday, the Bombers had not yet found a replacement for their young backup. That, Reagan said, would be a top priority for the club ahead of the Jan. 10 deadline.

“We've got to find a goaltender here and that's probably number one priority on our list right now,” said the coach.

Tisdale Trojans goalie Cody Wilson, who came to training camp with the Bombers earlier this season, sat on the bench as the Bombers' backup in their game in Nipawin Tuesday night.

The Bombers' schedule has seen more changes than not as of late. Both the Bombers' Jan. 7-8 games against the Melfort Mustangs were postponed due to the Mustangs suspending play - personnel with the Mustangs have tested positive for COVID-19 and the team will not play until at least next week. The Nipawin Hawks, who the Bombers played Tuesday night, have also called a similar suspension, suspending their Jan. 8 game.

Under current Manitoba health restrictions - in place until at least Jan. 11 - the team will be limited to having only 250 fans in the Whitney Forum for home games, about 12 per cent of its total capacity. The changes, as of Jan. 3, would have only affected one game - the team’s scheduled home matchup with Melfort Jan. 7, now postponed - unless the orders are extended.

As of Wednesday, the Bombers aren’t slated to play at home again until Jan. 22, when the Mustangs come back to town. Between those two nights, the Bombers will play six straight games on the road according to current scheduling.