Four words can best describe the Bombers' Friday afternoon Centennial Cup game - win or go home. Flin Flon's next opponent at nationals will be the OJHL champion Pickering Panthers.
The winner of Friday's game, which will be played at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time (5 p.m. Manitoba time) qualifies for the tournament semifinals Saturday. Similarly to the preliminary round games, the quarterfinals will be streamed online for free on Hockey Canada's website.
Following the results of the quarterfinal games, the semifinals will be seeded in a 1 versus 4 and 2 versus 3 format. If the Bombers win and Summerside wins the other quarterfinal matchup, that would set up a semifinal against the top-seeded Brooks Bandits - if Flin Flon wins and Longueuil defeats Summerside, the Bombers would play second-seeded Dauphin, who they defeated in the prelims.
Pickering is the only survivor of the four Ontario-based teams that arrived at this year's Centennial Cup and have made an impact, scoring 23 goals in just four games and putting up a 10 spot on the SJHL champion Estevan Bruins.
During the season, Pickering did not set the OJHL on fire with high-flying offence - only three Panthers players, Ian Martin, Lucas Rowe and Brendan Tomilson, cleared 50 points - but new stars emerged in the playoffs. Dustin Hutton, a former OHLer with two major junior seasons under his belt, took over, putting up 17 points in 14 games. Defender Matthew Altomare, a Pickering native who has played parts of four seasons with the Panthers, was almost a point-per-game player in the playoffs.
Pickering played a condensed playoff schedule this year that included two best-of-three playoff series and one best-of-five before a best-of-seven final against the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, where the Panthers won in seven games. The Panthers were the last team to enter the tournament, punching their ticket not even four full days before they were slated to play their first game.
Despite the lack of rest, the Panthers showed up early, starting the tournament with a pair of routs. Pickering opened the tournament with a 9-2 win over SIJHL champs Red Lake, then fought back from 5-3 down in the second to beat hosts Estevan 10-5. The Panthers then picked up a 3-2 overtime victory against College Francais de Longueuil before being handed their only loss so far Tuesday - a 9-1 pounding by the top-seeded Brooks Bandits.
Hutton has led the charge with the Panthers' offence so far, putting up 12 points on the tournament, including five goals. Hutton has factored in to more than half of the Panthers' goals so far.
Pickering has alternated goalies so far during the tournament, going back and forth between playoff starter Zachary Roy and backup Andrew Ballantyne. Both have goals-against-averages over 4 so far - Roy sports a .862 save percentage through the preliminary round, while Ballantyne has a .857 percentage.
Only one Panther is currently slated to be going to a NCAA Division I school next season - that being Brown Bears commit Eli Pilosof, a 5-foot-7, 146 pound speedster from Toronto who came to the club midseason from the BCHL. Before heading back to his home province, Pilosof played on the Cowichan Valley Capitals - the same team that Bombers Ethan Anstey and Ben Montgomery played for before they were acquired midseason.
By contrast, the Panthers have eight players on their roster with major junior experience, including seven who have played in the OHL - the Bombers have three.
|TALE OF THE TAPE|
|FLIN FLON BOMBERS||Team||PICKERING PANTHERS|
|SJHL runners-up||How they got here||OJHL champions|
|34-21-2-1||Regular season record||39-11-0-4|
|11 W - 5 L – 2 OTL||Playoff record||11 W – 2 L – 1 OTL|
|1 W (6-1 over Soo), 2 OTW (2-1 over Ottawa, 3-2 over Dauphin), 1 L (4-1 to Summerside)||Previous tourney results||2 W (9-2 over Red Lake, 10-5 over Estevan), 1 OTW (3-2 over Longueuil), 1 L (9-1 to Brooks)|
|Xavier Lapointe (58-19-31-50)||Leading scorers (regular season)||Ian Martin (52-27-29-56)|
|Zak Smith (50-20-28-48)||2||Lucas Rowe (54-24-31-55)|
|Jaxon Martens (58-19-27-46)||3||Brendan Tomilson (54-14-41-55)|
|Drew Kuzma (56-19-25-44)||4||Eli Pilosof (32-20-28-48)|
|Jaeden Mercier (39-18-26-44)||5||Dustin Hutton (42-18-27-45)|
|Kuzma (18-9-8-17)||Leading scorers (playoff)||Hutton (14-8-9-17)|
|Smith (18-9-8-17)||2||Tomilson (14-0-17-17)|
|Mercier (17-7-7-14)||3||Martin (14-8-7-15)|
|Gabriel Shipper (17-4-10-14)||4||Matthew Altomare (14-2-10-12)|
|Jacob Vockler (18-6-6-12)||5||Jake Partridge (14-3-8-11)|
|Lapointe (4-3-2-5)||Leading scorers (Centennial Cup)||Hutton (4-5-7-12)|
|Mercier (4-3-2-5)||2||Partridge (4-4-6-10)|
|Smith (4-0-4-4)||3||Martin (4-5-3-8)|
|Kuzma (4-1-2-3)||4||Pilosof (4-1-7-8)|
|Vockler (4-2-0-2)||5||Lucas Littlejohn (4-1-5-6)|
|Cal Schell (41 GP, 2.39 GAA, .923 SV%, 25-12-1-1)||Starting goalie||Zachary Roy (31 GP, 2.22 GAA, .931 SV%, 22-9)|
|Mike Reagan||Head coach||Rob Pearson|
|3.55||Goals per game||3.69|
|2.72||Goals against per game||2.5|
|Two (Lapointe, Jeremi Tremblay)||NCAA Division I committed players||One (Pilosof)|
|Three (Cory King, Smith, Rylan Thiessen)||Major junior players||Eight (Quinn Binnie, Hutton, Littlejohn, Martin, Partridge, Rowe, Roy, Tomilson)|
|not ranked||CJHL Top 20 ranking (year-end)||15th|