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New players with major junior experience join Bombers, lineup shuffled

The Bombers welcomed three new faces to the fold last week, each with WHL experience.
S39 Bombers Season Opener 15
Jaxon Martens and Nathan Gagne celebrate Martens' first SJHL goal in the Bombers' home opener Sept. 24.

The Bombers welcomed three new faces to the fold last week, each with WHL experience.

The first move was bringing back goalie Hildebrand, a 2004-born netminder and Bomber prospect who was at camp with the team both this year and last year. Hildebrand left camp with the Bombers to attend training camp with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, who hold his major junior rights. The Raiders reassigned Hildebrand back to the Bombers last week - the goalie started the team’s Oct. 2 home game against La Ronge, which ended as his first junior A win.

The second move saw the Bombers make a trade with a Manitoba team. Flin Flon acquired the junior A rights to 2001-born forward Zak Smith from the MJHL’s Neepawa Titans in exchange for a player development fee and forward Drayden Kurbatoff. A three-year WHL veteran, Smith put up 53 points in 163 games in western Canada’s top junior league and also added 22 points in one season in Neepawa as a 16-year-old. Smith, a left wing who hails from Austin, Man., reported to the Bombers last week and suited up against La Ronge Oct. 2, scoring a goal for his new club.

Finally, the Bombers picked up another major junior castaway in signing Cory King, a 2002-born defenceman who has played the past two seasons in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors. King was traded over the offseason to the Seattle Thunderbirds, where he was the odd man out for their defence. King had not played a game of junior A hockey before Oct. 2, when he played with the Bombers against La Ronge.

To fit the new guys on the roster, the Bombers dropped three players who were with the team opening night. Kurbatoff ended up with the OCN Blizzard after a second trade and has already suited up for a pair of games with the Blizzard, scoring one goal and adding an assist.

Bringing King in meant the Bombers also needed to cut down a defenceman. The odd man out there was Luke Schaeffer, who made the Bombers out of camp despite having never played at a AAA level before coming north. Schaeffer's junior A rights were moved to the Weyburn Red Wings for a player development fee. With Hildebrand now on the team, backup netminder Jared Thompson was also dropped from the Bombers’ active roster, traded to Melville - the same team that drafted him in the 2017 SJHL bantam draft before the Bombers picked up his rights - for another player development fee.

The Bombers also traded away forward Nick Magis, who the team acquired the rights of last month. The Alberta-born forward reportedly refused to report to Flin Flon, leading the Bombers to trade him to the AJHL’s Blackfalds Bulldogs for a player development fee.

 

Notes

Scoring has been off the charts during this SJHL season so far - and it's mostly younger players doing it. Out of the SJHL's top 10 scorers, only four are 2001-born players in their final season. Nolan Doell for La Ronge is the top of the upperclassmen with 11 points in seven games, along with Logan Kurki and Braiden Koran from Humboldt (10 points in four games and nine points in six games) and the Battlefords North Stars' Dylan Esau (nine points in seven games).

Both of the league's top scorers - Kevin Anderson of Notre Dame and Connor McGrath from Humboldt - are 2003-born players with two more years of eligibility left. Anderson has already committed to join the Ivy League next season, playing with Princeton Tigers in NCAA Division I.

Meanwhile, the Bombers' top scorer, Jaeden Mercier, sits 20th in the league's scoring ranks with eight points through seven games. Nathan Gagne and Cole Duperreault both snuck into the league's top 10 goal scoring list with four goals each, part of an eight-way tie for 10th place.

Elsewhere in the league, the Melville Millionaires couldn’t have started their season much worse. After having several games postponed shortly before the season start due to a positive COVID-19 case, five players and the team’s coach were suspended last week.

Players Alexis Giroux, Braden Larochelle, Aiden Robson, Nicholas Samson and Charles Thomas-Larochelle were all suspended for five games Sept. 28 for what the SJHL only referred to as “an incident on Friday, Sept. 24”. Head coach and general manager Mike Rooney initially faced a 10 game suspension and a $1,500 fine - the Millionaires appealed the suspensions, leading to Rooney’s suspension and fine being completely lifted.

Larochelle’s suspension stood at five games following the appeal, but the remaining four players’ suspensions were lowered to three games.

Due to the team’s first three games being cancelled, Giroux, Robson, Samson and Thomas-Larochelle will all be eligible to come back to the ice Oct. 8 when the Mils play Yorkton - Larochelle will only be able to play starting Oct. 12 against Weyburn.