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Recapping a busy recruitment offseason for the Bombers

The Bombers have aggressively recruited for the coming season, bringing no fewer than 20 new players into the fold this offseason.
S05 Bombers 2
Bomber players celebrate a goal during a home game against La Ronge earlier this season.

The Bombers have aggressively recruited for the coming season, bringing no fewer than 20 new players into the fold this offseason.

The Bombers' first signing was announced back in January, with local product Joey Lies joining up. Lies, a 2005-born forward, is an alumnus of the Norman Wolves AAA U15 program and played last year with the Winnipeg-based Rink Hockey Academy.

The signing is conditional on whether or not Lies makes a WHL team out of training camp. Lies was picked by the Swift Current Broncos in the 2020 WHL bantam draft, being picked in the seventh round. Lies has attended Bomber training camps in recent years, including the team's camp this season.

“We are very excited that Joey has chosen to play with us if he is not in the WHL next season," said Bombers head coach and general manager Mike Reagan in a team-issued statement.

"We have become very familiar with Joey over the last couple of years. Because of his size, strength and commitment to the game, we feel he will be ready to play at this level. It’s great for the community to potentially add a local player.”

In 26 games this season with the Rink Hockey Academy U18 team, Lies has 21 points, including 12 assists. Lies had previously captained the Norman Wolves, leading the team in scoring in 2019-20.

If he suits up with the Bombers next season, Lies will be the second member of his family to join the Bombers - his older brother Justin, currently with the WHL's Vancouver Giants, played with the Bombers briefly during the two-game 2020 season, playing in the team's sole home game.

Greg Diamond, a 6-foot-5, 205 behemoth of a forward from West Chester, Penn., was announced as a recruit in February. This past season, Diamond played with the Philadelphia Junior Flyers, playing 28 games in two leagues, scoring 13 goals and gathering 18 points.

“Greg is a power forward we are very excited about. He is a big and strong kid that moves very well and plays the game the right way," said Bomber head scout and director of player personnel Jon Klassen.

"One of our scouts, Travis Baber, identified him and he feels he is ready to play a big role on our team. Greg and his family are looking forward to playing in Canada and being a Bomber. He is sure to be a fan favourite.”

Later in February came the conditional commitment of former first-round bantam draft pick Rylan Pearce. Originally from Martensville, Sask., the 2005-born Pearce had 27 points in 29 games with the U18 AAA Warman Wildcats this past season. Pearce, who was picked in the WHL Draft in the fourth round by the Kamloops Blazers, is likely to join the Blazers this year - if he doesn't make the team out of camp, the Bombers will get first dibs on his rights.

“Rylan is a smooth skating defenceman with an extremely high hockey IQ. He is a player who comes to play every night and does not shy away from the physicality side of the game either," said Klassen.

"Rylan is definitely ready for junior hockey.”

Another big recruit came late in the season, 2004-born forward Liam Bridger. Originally from Logy Bay, Newfoundland, Bridger was spotted on the west coast, not the east - Bridger was nearly a point-per-game player for Shawnigan Lake in the CSSHL this year, putting in 34 points in 36 games.

“We are very excited to add a player with Liam’s skill set. He’s a great skater with a heavy shot that has all the characteristics that we want in a Bomber," said Reagan.

"We feel Liam is going to be an impact player for us in his first season.”

After taking a break for the SJHL playoffs, the Bombers announced several further signings. The first of the bunch came May 30, when the team signed Regina-born forward Dawson Karol from the U18 AAA Yorkton Maulers. The 2004-born Karol, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 181 pounds, played in 44 games with the Maulers last year, putting up 20 points. Karol also played games with the junior B Regina Capitals and the Bombers, with whom he played one game as an affiliated player in February.

Karol joined the Bombers in each of their last two spring camps and at the team’s 2021 training camp, getting time in three preseason games before being sent back to AAA.

“Dawson has been on our 50-man protected list for over a year now and has continued to get better every time our staff has seen him play,” said Bomber assistant coach and assistant general manager Cole McCaig.

“He’s had a great showing at the last three camps he’s attended and we feel he’ll be a great addition to our forward group.”

Another signing from Regina was announced June 3, with the Bombers picking up defender Dryden Jeannot. Another player who had made splashes at previous Bomber camps (including the 2021 main camp), Jeannot put up 17 points with Yorkton in 42 games. Jeannot joined the Bombers as an affiliate player once the season was over in Yorkton, even being named to the team’s initial announced roster for the Centennial Cup, though he did not play.

The 6-foot, 205-pound defender is seen as a good all-around defender by Bomber head coach and GM Mike Reagan, who also mentioned his time already spent with the team.

“Dryden spent the last couple of months with us learning our systems, which will help with his transition next season,” said Reagan.

“He has good size, hockey IQ and great patience with the puck. All attributes that will help him become a solid junior A defenceman.”

June 7 brought another signing - defender Liam Foley, originally from Winnipeg and a product of the Interlake Lightning U18 AAA program. Playing for the Lightning last season, Foley scored 19 points in 41 games, adding a few games with the Charleswood Hawks junior B team later in the year. The 2004-born defender brings a 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame and a steady two-way game with him up north.

“Liam is a good two-way defenceman that thinks the game well. He gets up and down the ice with good pace,” said Bomber Manitoba scout Mark Patton.

“He will be a calming presence on the Bombers' backend because he is poised with the puck, gets his eyes up the ice and has the ability to make good outlet passes.”

The Bombers then kept it in the family June 11 with another player announcement, bringing in forward Zach Vockler. Vockler, originally from Sioux Falls, S.D., played with the NA3HL’s Badlands Sabres last season, finishing with 51 points in 44 games and earning a spot in the league’s top prospects tournament.

Vockler is the younger brother of Bomber forward Jacob Vockler, who debuted in maroon and white last season. Zach is a year younger and smaller than his brother - listed at 5-foot-8 compared to his brother’s six-foot stature - but brings some talent and sandpaper into the Bomber fold.

“Zach has a great combination of grit and skill. He had a very impressive showing at our spring camp in May and we’re excited to see what he can do at the junior A level,” said McCaig.

“Zach had a great season with the Badlands Sabres in the same league Gabriel Shipper came from. With his brother Jacob being in Flin Flon, Zach understands our expectations and is obviously very familiar with our program.”

The Bombers would then head west for their most recent signings, picking up three Alberta prospects. First came defender Aiden Chow, whose signing was announced June 13. Chow stands 6-foot-4, 185 pounds and he was the captain of the CAC Canadians U18 AAA program last season, scoring four goals and having 21 points in 37 games in Alberta’s AAA ranks. Chow also played a pair of junior A games with the AJHL’s Blackfalds Bulldogs.

“Aiden is a big framed mobile defenceman who has proven that he can log a lot of minutes at the U18 AAA level,” said Bomber head scout and director of player personnel Jon Klassen.

“He is a two-way defenceman who is responsible defensively. Aiden has a cannon of a shot that not too many players are going to want to block.”

Forward Mason Hartley would also join the fold June 17, signing up with the Bombers after a season with the Northern Alberta Xtreme U18 prep team. Hartley, who suited up as an affiliate with the AJHL’s Whitecourt Wolverines, scored 43 points in 31 games with the Xtreme.

“Mason comes to play every night. He’s not afraid to go get the puck, has great vision and moves the puck well. He’s a very mature kid that plays the game the right way,” said Klassen.

The next recruit announced by the team is Mathew Langdon, a Sherwood Park, Alta. prospect who last played for the U18 AAA Sherwood Park Kings. With the Kings last year, the 6-foot-2, 161 pound forward put up 28 points in 36 games.

“We feel Matthew has the tools to become a very good junior A player. He’s got great size at 6-foot-2, along with a great skill set and a heavy shot,” said McCaig.

“He uses his size well with his physicality and puck protection. He’s the type of player that can play anywhere in your lineup.”

Another Alberta prospect was announced by the team June 23, with the team signing up defender Jack Wieninger. Another Alberta U18 AAA product, the 5-foot-11, 160 pounder - originally from Ontario but now living in Edmonton - put up 29 points in 38 games with the South Side Athletic Club U18 AAA team last season.

“Jack is an offensive defenceman that put up great numbers last season in the AEHL U18 AAA league," said Reagan. 

"We like the way he creates offensive opportunities by walking the blueline and his ability to get pucks through to net from the point.”

June 27 brought another new recruit and the team’s second American new face, seeing the Bombers snag forward Brent Gulenchyn. Gulenchyn was the captain of the Mahtomedi High School Zephyrs in Minnesota last season, leading the team to a third place finish in their classification at the prestigious Minnesota high school state championships. The 5-foot-9, 150 pound forward from Stillwater, Minn. has three years of junior A eligibility and impressed the Bombers during his appearance at the team’s spring camp in Saskatoon.

“Brent attended our spring camp in May as an unknown and ended up being one of the top players at the camp. After doing our homework on Brent, we felt he would be a great addition to our team,” said Bomber assistant coach and assistant GM Cole McCaig. 

“He’s a highly skilled forward that isn’t afraid to go to the tough areas. He has a high compete level and has great leadership qualities.”

Earlier this summer, Gulenchyn was tendered by the NAHL’s Fairbanks Ice Dogs, who now hold his American junior A rights.

On Canada Day, the team announced the signing of defender Andrey Manov. Originally from Russia, Manov and his family settled in the Vancouver area when he was young, where he learned the game and has played most of his career.

The 2003-born D-man stands 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and played this past season with the Burnaby Winter Club prep team in the Canadian Sport Schools Hockey League (CSSHL). With Burnaby, Manov had 22 points in 29 games.

“Andrey is a two-way defenceman that takes pride in blocking shots and being good in his own end. He has the ability to chip in offensively and he does all of the little things right,” said McCaig. 

“He has a ton of character and is the type of kid that wants to get better every single day.”

The Bombers kept another key recruit close to home July 5, signing on defenceman Cheechoo Lathlin, one of northern Manitoba’s most talented prospects.

A product of the Norman Northstars U18 AAA team and originally from Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas, Lathlin impressed this season with his offensive abilities. Lathlin was Manitoba’s third-highest scorer among AAA defenders last year, pumping home 49 points - including 15 goals - in just 36 games. Lathlin also played six games with the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard and played twice with the KJHL’s OCN Storm, where he scored four points in one night against the NCN Flames Feb. 19 and added a hat-trick against the same team the next night.

“Cheechoo was a player we kept a close eye on during the season. He had a great year offensively and was one of the top blueliners in Manitoba U18,” said McCaig. 

“We feel Cheechoo has a very high ceiling and is a player that probably could’ve played junior A last season. He’s got a great skill set along with a high compete level and he hates to lose.”

Another northern recruit was announced July 8, with Flin Flon picking up 2004-born forward Carter McLeod. McLeod hails from Yellowknife, N.W.T, the same hometown as current Bomber forward Ethan Anstey - the two played together on Team Northwest Territories in the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

McLeod played last year in the CSSHL with the Edge School, a Calgary-based club. With Edge, McLeod had 24 points in 35 games. McLeod was picked by the Moose Jaw Warriors in the 2019 WHL draft, but has not signed a standard player agreement with the club.

“We love his size, compete level and his willingness to play a 200-foot game,” said Reagan. “We feel that he has strong character and is going to be a player that the opposing teams are going to hate to play against.”

As of press time, the Bombers’ most recent recruit was announced July 11 - goaltender Kenneth Marquart.

The 6-foot-1, 174-pound netminder from Regina, born in 2005, was picked up by the Bombers following a year where Marquart headed west, playing 22 games in the KIJHL, a B.C. junior B league, for the Osoyoos Coyotes. The year ended with Marquart having a sterling 16-1-1 regular season record, a 2.72 goals-against-average and a .904 save percentage and earning a shot with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, one of the best clubs in the province. Marquart played nine minutes of relief for the Vees in a rout against Cranbrook in December, stopping four shots.

A former Regina Pats pick in the 2020 WHL draft, Marquart received high praise from Bomber head scout Jon Klassen.

“I have liked Kenneth for awhile and we’re very excited to see him in a Bomber uniform this upcoming season. He’s an extremely intelligent goaltender and he will make shooters nervous as he is very positionally strong. Kenneth has a very bright hockey future,” Klassen said.

Late last month, the Bombers finished up their offseason recruiting by announcing a final three players.

July 13 brought the announcement that the team would welcome in forward Lucas Byrne, a 2004-born forward from Pentiction, B.C. who played last year with the Okanagan Hockey Academy in his hometown. Playing in the CSSHL, the 6-foot, 165-pound Byrne put up 25 points in 36 games.

“Lucas is a big-bodied forward that is difficult to play against. He likes to engage physically and never misses an opportunity to make his opponent aware of his presence,” said Bomber Manitoba scout Mark Patton.

“Lucas displays good stride length and he is a solid skater that covers ground quickly. He plays with energy and has an excellent demeanor that will lead him to success at the next level.” 

Another goalie was announced July 15, with the Bombers bringing in Ethan Farrow. The Bonnyville, Alta. native played last year in the Alberta AAA U18 ranks with the Sherwood Park Kings, amassing a 6-12-2 record, a 3.48 goals-against-average and a .897 save percentage.

“Ethan is a goaltender we have had on our radar for most of the season last year. He is quick, athletic, calm in the net and very competitive,” said Klassen. 

“We are excited to have Ethan come to Flin Flon and we have high expectations for him.”

The last announcement came July 18, with Grady Priest, a 6-foot-2 defender from Lloydminster, signing on with the club. Priest did not play competitive hockey last season - he played a few games during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season with the AAA U18 Lloydminster Bobcats, putting up an assist in a four-game stretch.

“Grady is a two-way defender that brings a good mix of skill and physicality. He’s not afraid to join the rush and make plays while being reliable in his own end,” said Chase Haygarth, a former Bomber forward and Lloydminster native.

“Grady is going to be a player that the opposition hates playing against and one that fans at the Whitney Forum are going to enjoy watching.”

The Bombers will likely have a crowded training camp at the Whitney Forum later this month, starting August 26. Up to six defenders, two goalies and nine forwards from last year’s team are likely to return to the Bombers this year.