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Game Preview: What to watch for in Bombers/Bruins Game 7

It is the biggest game for both the Bombers and Bruins in decades. Game 7 goes Friday night in Estevan and the league title is on the line. Here is the tale of the tape.
S18 Bombers 8
The Whitney Forum, both dark and buzzing with life, before Game 4 of the SJHL finals.

It is the biggest game for both the Bombers and Bruins in decades. Game 7 goes Friday night in Estevan and the SJHL title is on the line. Here is the tale of the tape.

In overall scoring during the series, the Bombers are ahead of the Bruins in overall goals for, thanks largely to lopsided finishes in Flin Flon for Games 4 and 6. In total, the Bombers have scored 21 goals to the Bruins' 14 - but the Bruins have scored nine goals in Estevan in their three games there, versus the Bombers' four goals for in three games in enemy territory.

Flin Flon's offence has been paced by the twin towers - Zak Smith and Drew Kuzma. Smith has led the way offensively, with six goals and 11 points through six games in the final series, including three goals and four points in Estevan. Kuzma was held off the scoresheet for the first two games but has come on with a vengeance, putting up three goals and eight points.

Other Bombers with high production include defender Xavier Lapointe, who has a goal and seven points, as well as Jaeden Mercier, who has five goals and eight points so far in the series.

Estevan has gotten results from Eric Pearce, who leads the way for the team with seven points, including goals in both Games 4 and 5. Defender Nolan Jones has five assists on the series, including the point shot on the goal that tied up Game 5 with five seconds left on the clock, while Olivier Pouliot's constant prowl on the puck has led to him scoring four goals.

From a goaltending standpoint, it's been Cal Schell who's had the better statistics, coming into Game 7 with a 1.92 goals-against-average and a .94 save percentage. Boston Bilous, the Estevan starter, has a goals-against-average of 2.94 and a .906 save percentage through six games.

The biggest X-factor in play Friday night is whether or not the Bomber can, for the first time this year, win at Affinity Place. Through six games, the home team has won every game in this final series. Dating back to the regular season, the Bombers were unable to close out a pair of road games in the Bruins' rink, with each ending in third period collapses.

The series bears a surface similarity to the last time the Bombers won an SJHL championship, way back in 1993 - in that series, the Bombers, who entered into those finals against the top team in the league - at that time, the Melville Millionaires - went seven games in a series where the home team won each gam - until Game 7, when the Bombers pulled ahead and won the league.

The Bruins last won the league title in 1999, in a year where they also entered the playoffs as the SJHL's top seed. Those Bruins were on cruise control for most of the playoffs, sweeping Melville in the first round, beating Notre Dame in five games and sweeping Humboldt to win the title.

Long travel may also play a factor - Flin Flon and Estevan are the two furthest-apart teams, by overall highway distance, in the SJHL. The two communities are 806 kilometres apart by road on a route that takes travellers down Manitoba Highway 10. The trip is tied with the journey from La Ronge to Estevan for the league's longest road trip. To combat bus legs, the Bombers left for Game 7 early Wednesday morning and got a skate in at Affinity Place on arrival.

Bomber fans have continued on the theme of the "moose leg curse", mentioning the end of Game 3 when Bruin Jamie Valentino attempted to pick up the Bombers' talismanic moose leg and steal away off the ice with it. That stunt was quickly stopped, but since Valentino touched the leg, the Bruins have not at any point held a lead - their only move ahead on the board coming with Pouliot's overtime winner in Game 5.

The incident sparked a resurgence in "Don't Mess with the Moose Leg" chants and symbolism from Bomber fans, recalling the 2016 playoff run when the Bombers advanced to the league final after a similar incident against Weyburn led to a brawl. Since that game, aside from Survivor Series play-ins, the Red Wings have not won a playoff game, being swept out by Battlefords in 2017 and 2018.

Strangely, Game 7 may be quieter than games have been so far this series. Ahead of Game 7, the Bruins released an online statement saying that the team would not allow air horns into Affinity Place.

"For the enjoyment of all fans in attendance as well as fans watching at home, we will not be allowing compressed air devices (airhorns) into Affinity Place for Game 7 of the SJHL Finals. We encourage fans to bring their cowbells, clappers and loudest cheering voices," reads the team's statement.

Both teams' fans have used compressed air truck horns stashed in the stands during the series, with the Bombers utilizing multiple horns to make the already-rowdy Whitney Forum even noisier during Bomber home games.

Lastly, the Bombers have played the past two games with an injury-ravaged lineup. Three 20-year-old players sat out Game 6 - defenders Rylan Thiessen and Cole Vardy and forward Mason Kaspick. Thiessen had not played since Game 2 of the final series, while both Kaspick and Vardy were in the crowd after getting hurt in Game 5 in Estevan. Whether or not any of the three players will hit the ice in Game 7 is unknown. No 20-year-olds sat out Game 6 for the Bruins.

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