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SJHL schedule released, Bombers set for Sept. 25 home opener

The SJHL is planning to kick off next season on Sept. 24, with the Bombers coming back to the Whitney Forum for the first time - COVID-19 restrictions pending - Sept. 25.

The SJHL is planning to kick off next season on Sept. 24, with the Bombers coming back to the Whitney Forum for the first time - COVID-19 restrictions pending - Sept. 25.

Eleven of the league’s 12 teams, as of July 12, will be able to open their doors to fans with no mask mandates or capacity limits - Flin Flon is the sole exception, being based in Manitoba, where COVID-19 restrictions are slated to be in place in at least some form until September.

“After enduring the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year and a half, the SJHL is proud and excited to welcome its 12 teams, along with it’s players and fans, back into arenas across the province in 2021-22,” reads a statement issued by the league with the schedule’s release July 12.

The league’s three divisions will see no changes - the Sherwood division will still consist of the SJHL’s four northeastern teams, with Flin Flon playing the La Ronge Ice Wolves, Melfort Mustangs and Nipawin Hawks. The Battlefords North Stars, Humboldt Broncos, Kindersley Klippers and Notre Dame Hounds will continue to make up the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division, while the Viterra Division will still be made of the teams in Saskatchewan’s southeast region - Estevan, Melville, Weyburn and Yorkton.

The Bombers will begin their 2021-22 season with a home-and-home series Sept. 24-25 against the Melfort Mustangs, playing the first night in Melfort before the return rendezvous at the Whitney Forum. The Bombers will then host the Nipawin Hawks Sept. 28 before another home-and-home Oct. 1-2 with La Ronge - first game at the Mel Hegland Uniplex in La Ronge, second at the Forum.

The league will host the annual SJHL Showcase in Warman Oct. 4-6, with all teams - including the Bombers - playing two games each.

All teams will play teams within their division at least eight times, with 10 games in total being played against what the league calls a team’s “natural rival” - in the Bombers’ case, that is La Ronge, same as it has been for the past several seasons. Each team will play four games each against the remaining eight teams outside the division - a total of 58 regular season games.

The SJHL and Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) will also team up for a new edition of the SJHL/MJHL Showcase, this time taking place in Winnipeg. The interleague showcase will take place Jan. 25-26.

At the end of the season - currently scheduled for March 6, 2022 - the SJHL’s top eight teams, regardless of division, will reach the playoffs. No Survivor Series or division-based seeding will take place this season. Traditional seeding will take place - first seed versus eighth, second seed versus seventh and so on. The league has tentatively scheduled the league finals to start April 8, with the league champion set to take on the MJHL’s champions in the ANAVET Cup starting April 29 for a spot at the Centennial Cup in Estevan.

With Estevan hosting the national title tournament this season, SJHL teams will be subject to different guidelines for entering the tournament. If Estevan wins the SJHL title, the MJHL champion will automatically advance to the Centennial Cup, win or lose. If the MJHL champs win the ANAVET, they’ll advance to the national tournament.

Two teams from the SJHL can possibly make it into the tournament, as long as any SJHL team aside from Estevan wins the league title and the ANAVET Cup. A similar situation happened in 2001, when Flin Flon hosted the national title tournament and Weyburn won both a league title and ANAVET.