It was a mixed weekend for the Bombers, getting both a lump of coal and a nice gift in their final games before the holiday break against arch-rivals La Ronge.
The home-and-home series saw the Bombers starting on the road, taking on a strong start before crashing and burning en route to a 7-2 loss to the Ice Wolves.
Things started well enough, with the Bombers scoring early in the first period. Xavier Lapointe scored less than eight minutes in, adding another goal two minutes later, giving the Bombers a 2-0 lead.
It all fell apart from there, as the Bombers wouldn’t score again and would give up a touchdown of unanswered goals, letting seven goals in during the remaining 50 minutes.
Brendan Della Paolera started the firing squad late in the first, pulling the Ice Wolves within one, with Holden Knights tying the game early in the second and Ryley Morgan scoring what proved to be the game-winner late in the second.
Four third-period goals would cap off the game, with Kole Christensson, Knights, Nate Looft and Della Paolera each finding the twine, sending the Bombers back down the Hanson Lake Road with their most lopsided loss of the season.
La Ronge netminder Xavier Cannon made 23 saves in a winning effort, while Bombers goalie Cal Schell stopped 28 pucks on the night.
Flin Flon did play a couple players short, suiting up only five defenders and 11 forwards on the night due to a recent spate of injuries.
The Bombers woke up Saturday night though, coming home and sending the fans home happy with a 5-2 win in their last game before the holiday break.
Neither team broke duck until the dying seconds of the second period, where Gavin Mattey gave La Ronge the lead with a powerplay goal only eight seconds before intermission.
While the Ice Wolves entered the third with a 1-0 lead, it wouldn’t stay that way for long - the visitors had awakened the giant. The Bombers’ offence, largely dormant for the weekend and unseen for much of Saturday’s game, popped off for five goals in the final 20 minutes, including four goals over five minutes of game time.
Matt Egan got things going less than two minutes in, scoring his second as a Bomber to tie the game. Jaxon Martens added another goal a minute later to pull Flin Flon ahead, with Zak Smith getting on the board again two minutes later. La Ronge’s Aaron Greyeyes did score to stop the bleeding, but Jeremi Tremblay ripped the wound right back open a few moments later, making it a 4-1 Bomber lead.
Egan scored his second of the game into an empty net with three seconds to go, icing the win and sending the Bombers into Christmas on a positive note.
Bomber backup Max Hildebrand got the W, making 34 saves, while Xavier Cannon was, appropriately enough, shelled, stopping 30 shots. The Bombers won this one shorthanded, playing one forward short, although the team dressed six defenders instead of five as Cole Vardy slotted back into the lineup.
The Ice Wolves and Bombers will play each other in another home-and-home series after the holiday break, suiting up in Flin Flon on New Years’ Eve and playing again in La Ronge on New Years’ Day
At the holiday break, the Bombers are tied for fourth place in the SJHL standings with 43 points, stuck with the Battlefords North Stars. The Bombers were passed for third place in the league (and top spot in the Sherwood division) by the Melfort Mustangs, owners of a seven-game winning streak and 45 points so far this season. Humboldt remains number one in the league with 54 points, while Estevan sits second with 50 points.
The Bombers do sit third place in points percentage, as they have played fewer games than both the North Stars and Mustangs.
At the holidays, Jaxon Martens leads the Bombers in scoring with 31 points in 32 games, with Jeremi Tremblay just behind with 30 points in 32 games and Cole Duperreault’s 29 points in 32 games. Zak Smith is the only player on the team with more than a point-per-game pace who hasn’t missed considerable time, with 29 points in 27 games.
The Bombers made a roster move last week, sending forward Nathan Gagne home early for Christmas break. The team intends to deal away the Quebecois forward, who has 21 points in 29 games so far this season, good enough for sixth in team scoring.
Flin Flon will get one big name back in the new year - forward Jaeden Mercier, one of the team’s best forwards, is likely to return to the lineup after the holiday break. Mercier, who started the season with 16 points in 14 games on the team’s top line, was injured in an Oct. 20 game against the Estevan Bruins and hasn’t played since.
At the holiday break, the odds-on favourite for both the SJHL’s MVP and rookie of the year is Connor McGrath. The 18-year-old Humboldt Bronco forward has been the league’s top point-getter, with 54 points in 35 games, well ahead of second-place Mark Rumsey from Estevan. While Rumsey is two years older than McGrath and has major junior experience, McGrath is still six points clear of him on top of the points list.
The Bombers have a pair of possible defenceman of the year contenders in Xavier Lapointe and Cole Vardy. Lapointe leads all defencemen in scoring this season with 28 points in 32 games, while Vardy, who missed several games earlier this month due to injury, sits seventh on the list despite being known mostly for his physical and defensive play.
The race for the SJHL’s top goalie appears wide open, with Estevan’s Boston Bilous (1.85 goals-against-average, .934 save percentage), Humboldt’s Rayce Ramsay (2.12 goals-against-average, .929 save percentage) and Yorkton’s Kael DePape (2.06 goals-against-average, .925 save percentage) all well in contention. Cal Schell, despite cooling off after a hot start, is in that conversation as well, with a 2.56 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. Schell also has four shutouts on the season - only Bilous, who has five, has more.