The Bombers have received a massive local boost for the coming season. After four seasons in the Western Hockey League, Justin Lies is coming home.
The Flin Flon-born Lies has committed to join the Bombers for the 2023-24 season, which will be his final season of junior before aging out. The team announced the signing of the 19-year-old forward Sept. 8 - he joined the team at training camp earlier this month and has already participated in intrasquad games, practices and scrimmages.
In doing so, Justin will not only rejoin the hometown team he briefly played with in 2020, but will suit up with his brother Joey and get to play in front of his family full-time for the first time in years.
“It’s a really good feeling. It’s something that I’ve had in the back of my mind my whole life - I’ve always wanted to be a Bomber,” said Lies.
“The opportunity was there for me this year to decide to stay home and play, trying to win a championship with this group here. I’m really excited - it’s been a long time coming.”
Justin will join his brother Joey on the squad – Joey, now 17, played his rookie junior season as a Bomber last year, scoring 13 points in 36 regular season games. Both grew up playing in Flin Flon and for northern Manitoba regional programs before leaving for prep school hockey in Winnipeg as teens. Both played at Bomber training camps since their early teens and both were picked by teams in the WHL draft.
The Lies brothers will join rarefied air just by playing together, becoming the first Flin Flon-raised set of brothers to play together on the Bombers since the Johnsons in 1992-93 - the team’s last championship season.
“I’m really excited for that. We’ve never actually played on the same team together - I think there was one year, back in atom, where he got called up for some games, but never for a full season. It’s going to be something new and it’s a really cool opportunity to play in your home town, for your home town team, with your brother. We’re both really excited for it,” Lies said.
“We are obviously very excited to add Justin for so many reasons. Not only is he a great player and will make us a better team, but it’s been a long time since we had two local brothers on the Bombers," said Bomber head coach and general manager Mike Reagan.
"This is a special time for our fans to have Joey and Justin playing for the Bombers together. There are a lot of young kids that look up to these two. As a Flin Flonner, I’m proud to have these two representing our great community.”
After leaving the north for sports school hockey in Winnipeg, Lies went to the WHL, where he played his past four seasons of hockey. In that time, the 19-year-old forward played 176 games in western Canada’s top junior hockey league with the Vancouver Giants and the Saskatoon Blades, scoring 21 goals and 53 points. Lies was also invited to the NHL Vegas Golden Knights’ prospect development camp in 2022.
It’s a homecoming in many ways for Lies - most of his family still live in and around Flin Flon. Some operate Westwood Lodge, located on Big Island Lake not far from town. The family spends an abundance of time in the wilderness around Flin Flon, including Justin - not long before an interview with The Reminder, he’d gone out with family hunting ducks and chicken, bagging a few. Being back in the north after spells in cities like Vancouver and Saskatoon will be a change of pace for the northern boy.
“I’ll be able to hop on a ski-doo in the backyard and try and catch some fish after practice - it’d be nice,” Lies joked.
Lies first appeared at the Bombers’ training camp in 2018, aged just 14. Back then, coaches thought highly enough of Lies to put him out in overtime during the annual maroon and white game with veteran forward Caleb Moretz. The decision paid off and Moretz scored the winner, with Lies assisting it - Moretz is now entering his fifth season of NCAA hockey, while Lies will only now start his first full season as a Bomber.
Unlike some WHL drop-down players in the past, motivation for Lies will not be an issue. Lies says he is hoping to end his junior hockey career with playoff glory.
“It's pretty easy for me - I just want to win here with this group and this team. I mean, I've been a Bomber before as a kid in minor hockey - now I get the chance to actually be a Flin Flon Bomber, on a really good team,” he said.
“This group wants to win. Everyone here is motivated to win. That, I think, is what's going to be driving us all to be working hard. It's my 20-year-old year - that's enough motivation in itself for me. There's tons of things that will be motivating me and are motivating me.”
Lies has one game as a Bomber under his belt, coming in 2020 during the doomed 2020-21 SJHL season. The Bombers only played two games before COVID-19 led to the season being suspended and later cancelled – Lies, then weeks shy of his 17th birthday, played in the team’s sole home game.
Being a local player on the Bombers brings a lot of pressure to perform. Lies plans to take that pressure as a positive, pushing him and the team to perform better as the season wears on.
“I know there's for sure going to be pressure. I'm probably going to feel it some nights. It's obviously going to be really cool playing in front of so many people that I know,” he said.
“I am going to put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well, to try to meet the expectations and go beyond that.”
The Bombers have seen levels of success in recent years, reaching the SJHL finals in four of the last six seasons they’ve been held. Unfortunately, the team lost all four and has one of the SJHL’s longest title droughts – it will be 31 years this spring since the team’s last title.
Lies and his new teammates hope this is the year the drought ends.
“I’m coming home to play and win a championship,” he said.