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Returning to play, Bombers seek to keep up historic hot start

The Bombers will start 2024 in unchartered waters. Never in the team’s near-century-long history have they started a season so dominant - the next test is keeping the momentum going.
Members of the Bombers pose for a team photo following the team's last game before the holiday break, a 4-0 win over the archrival La Ronge Ice Wolves.

With the holiday break soon to end for Canada’s top junior A team, the Bombers are in unchartered waters. Never in the team’s near-century-long history has the team seen a season start so dominant - the next test is keeping the momentum going.

Through 31 games this season, the Bombers sport a 28-1-2-0 record, having achieved 58 of a possible 62 points. The Bombers have, as of press time, achieved points in each one of their last 16 games, winning 15 of those and losing one in overtime. They have been listed as the CJHL’s top junior A team for each week since late October, holding the spot for 10 weeks and counting.

Flin Flon sports the SJHL’s top powerplay, scoring more than 25 per cent of the time with a man advantage, as well as the SJHL’s best penalty kill, getting out of penalties unscathed 88.9 per cent of the time. The Bombers have scored more goals than any other SJHL team, putting the biscuit in the basket 155 times so far, while giving up the fewest goals, only 61 - fewer than two goals against per game on average. Five of the SJHL’s top seven scorers are Bombers, led by captain and hometown boy Justin Lies, who has 27 goals and 51 points in 30 games.

The Bombers have played at junior A or major junior levels during almost every season since 1948, the only exception being in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the team played in the NorMan Junior Hockey League, which changed between a junior A and junior B level. If this year’s Bomber team can continue their current pace for wins, losses and points, this season would go down as the best junior A season in the team’s long history.

Assuming current trends continue and adjusting for rounding, the Bombers are on pace to finish the 56-game SJHL season with a record of 51-2-3-0 - good enough for 105 points. That would set a modern SJHL league record for points by a team, beating the record set in 2000 by the Nipawin Hawks, who hit 104 points with a 60-game schedule - four more games than the Bombers will play this regular season. Humboldt and Notre Dame were able to reach higher totals in 1990 and 1988 respectively, but did so with longer schedules - Humboldt played a whopping 68 games when they hit 106 points in 1990.

That mark would also break the record of last year’s juggernaut Battlefords North Stars club that swept Flin Flon in the league finals - the Stars finished the season with 99 points last year.

Even the team’s 1956-57 season - which ended with the Bombers’ famed Memorial Cup win - saw the Bombers achieve a 46-5-2 record in 53 games, good for 94 points. While that season was historic, the Bombers’ current pace would top even those halcyon days. The 1966-67 season, when the Bombers had a 42-6 run through the SJHL, won the league and competed again for a Memorial Cup, also saw the team sport a slightly worse record than what they have in place this year.


What’s next

The rest of the Bombers’ season will not be easy. Out of the remaining 25 games the Bombers play, just five will be against teams not currently in an SJHL playoff spot. One of those will be against Melville, who despite sitting ninth in the standings, are the only team to beat Flin Flon in regulation this year and the only team to beat them twice, having an OT win over the Bombers Nov. 25. That stands as the Bombers’ last defeat.

Until the end of the season, the Bombers will play second-place Melfort and fourth-place Humboldt three times each. Four games will come against fifth-place Nipawin. There will be three games against the Estevan Bruins - who, if the season ended today, would finish as the eighth-seed and be the Bombers’ first-round playoff matchup.

The Bombers’ schedule will be tougher by one key metric too - most of the team’s remaining matchups are on the road. Just 10 of the remaining games will take place at the Whitney Forum, with Flin Flon hosting four games in January and just three games each in February and March. Meanwhile, the Bombers will undergo both a four-game-in-five-night southern road trip and a three-game-in-three-night road swing, both within days of each other in February - first, games against Melville, Notre Dame, Weyburn and Estevan from Feb. 6-10, then a matchup with Humboldt and two against Kindersley from Feb. 22-24.

The matchup most SJHL observers have circled on the calendar are the games between the Bombers and Stars, rematches of last year’s league final series. The Stars, spurred on by the addition of last year’s league MVP Kian Bell, have shot up the standings and now sit third. Since joining the Stars 10 games into the season, Bell has picked up right where he left off last year, tying Justin Lies for the league scoring lead with 51 points in just 19 games.

Four games will take place between the Bombers and Stars in the second half of the season - two weekend series, one in the Battlefords and one in Flin Flon. The first of those series will take place later this month, Jan. 26-27, with one game in North Battleford’s Access Communications Centre and the second across the river in the Battleford Arena. The next series will take place three weeks later at the Whitney Forum Feb. 16-17.

Flin Flon has wins over 10 of the SJHL’s 11 teams - the only one the Bombers don’t have a win over yet are the Stars, who they haven’t yet played.

A total of 13 current Bombers were part of the squad last year the Stars knocked out - 10 Stars remain.

The SJHL/MJHL Showcase will slide into that schedule in late January, with three teams of each league’s best players facing off at Winnipeg’s Seven Oaks Sportsplex from Jan. 30-31. Teams and player selections have not yet been announced by either league, but usually focus on the top players in each league, with preference sometimes given for players who have NCAA eligibility.

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