Everything is at stake in the SJHL final between the Bombers and the Battlefords North Stars, which gets underway tonight in North Battleford. Here's what you need to know.
Both Flin Flon and Battlefords won their opening series - the Stars got to the finals by knocking off Weyburn in five games and Melfort in four, going flawless since a Game 1 loss against the Wings. Flin Flon took a hard road to get to the final, beating Estevan in seven games and taking down the Humboldt Broncos in five.
The league title is up for grabs in the series, as is a ticket to the national championship, the Centennial Cup, being held next month in Portage la Prairie. The Bombers have not won the title in 30 years - the Stars last won it in 2017, hoisting the trophy on Whitney Forum ice after beating the Bombers in a four-game sweep.
During the past regular season, the Bombers and Stars played four times. The Stars won three of the four meetings, but the Bombers did manage to shut the Stars out at the Forum.
Battlefords picked up a 5-2 win over Flin Flon Nov. 18 during a neutral site game in Wilkie, then got a 4-3 overtime win the next day in a second neutral site game in Battleford the next night - the games took place during a period where the Access Communications Centre in North Battleford, the Stars' home rink, was undergoing ice plant repairs.
Months later, during Hockey Night in the North on Feb. 17, the Bombers went to town on the Stars, keeping them to just 15 shots in a 6-0 beatdown. Battlefords got their revenge a night later though with a 4-2 win - one during which several key Bomber players, including Cole Duperreault, Matt Egan and Jacob Vockler, were injured.
During those games, Kian Bell led the Stars in scoring, picking up a goal and an assist in the three games in which Battlefords wasn't shut out. Jackson Allan was dangerous, putting up three goals and an assist, while Holden Doell had four assists and Steven Kesslering had three helpers.
For Flin Flon, Duperreault and Vockler led the attack. Both players had five points in those four games, with Duperreault scoring once and picking up four assists. Vockler had at least one point in all four games, including two goals and three assists, while Brent Gulenchyn had a goal and three assists, all picked up in the final two games.
The list of superlatives for the Stars this year is long. The team's 48 regular season wins in 56 games is the most an SJHL team has had since 2016-17, when the Stars also had 48 wins in 58 games. (The Stars swept the entire playoffs that year, including beating the Bombers in the finals.) Leading scorers Bell and Doell were the first teammates to both clear 100 points since Travis Eggum and Marc-Andre Carre did it for La Ronge in 2010-11 - the Ice Wolves won the title that year.
The Stars scored more than five goals per game on average and, throughout the playoffs so far, the top four scorers for the Stars are also the top four scorers in the league. While the Bombers were an honourable mention in the CJHL's national top 20 rankings at the end of the year, the Stars were ranked number two - they'd been ranked first in the country for most of the season.
Battlefords will come into a series against the Bombers motivated as well - the two teams faced off in the opening round of last year's playoffs, with Flin Flon, despite coming into the series as the lower seed, winning in six games. The Stars won the opening two games at home, but the Bombers would take the series over once things went north. Vockler scored a pivotal OT winner in Game 4 to tie the series, got a pair of goals by Gabriel Shipper pushing the Bombers over for a Game 5 win and clinched the series at home in a 6-2 win.
Most of the Stars' roster was on hand for that series - eight forwards and six defencemen, including captain Jake Southgate, Doell, SJHL defender of the year Tynan Ewart and 40-goal man Kesslering.
Much has been made of the Bombers' injury woes through the last part of the regular season and early playoffs. The team finished their series with Humboldt with key players Egan, Jaeden Mercier and Jeremi Tremblay out of the lineup - their condition heading into the finals is unknown. Despite big absences, the Bombers were able to beat out the league's second seed in five games, giving up only 10 goals in five games and keeping most of the Broncos' top talent off the scoresheet.
Both teams can rely on strict defence and hot goaltending. Harmon Laser-Hume has been arguably the league's best goalie in playoffs so far and the Bombers' likely playoff MVP, playing every minute of the series for the team so far and earning all eight wins. Laser-Hume's .950 save percentage in the five games against Humboldt meant he was saving 19 of every 20 Bronco shots he faced.
Josh Kotai is no slouch, either - the newly-minted SJHL goalie of the year also comes in with eight wins, all of which have come during the Stars' winning streak. Kotai only gave up five goals against Melfort in the semifinal, capped off with a 1-0 double overtime shutout in Game 3 where he made 44 saves.
The series starts with Games 1 and 2 at North Battleford's Access Communication Centre April 14 and 15, before coming back to Flin Flon's Whitney Forum April 21 and 22 for Games 3 and 4. If needed, Game 5 will be in the Battlefords April 25, with the series swinging back to Flin Flon for a hypothetical Game 6 April 29. A decisive seventh game, if needed, will be played in North Battleford May 3.
Games will be available to watch on both Hockey TV and on SaskTel Max, as well as on local radio stations. The Reminder will have full post-game reports of all games during the series.
|FLIN FLON BOMBERS||Team||BATTLEFORDS NORTH STARS|
|37-15-2-2||Regular season record||48-5-2-1|
|Sherwood||Division||Global Ag Risk Solutions|
|1st in Sherwood||Division finish||1st in Global Ag Risk Solutions|
|Loss in final (to EST)||Last season result||Loss in first round (to FF)|
|Beat Humboldt in five games||Last series result||Beat Melfort in four games|
|Cole Duperreault (44-37-27-64)||Leading scorers (regular season)||Kian Bell (51-54-48-102)|
|Jeremi Tremblay (44-27-28-55)||2||Holden Doell (49-33-67-100)|
|Zach Cain (53-23-28-51)||3||Jake Southgate (54-25-57-82)|
|Jaeden Mercier (38-12-38-50)||4||Steven Kesslering (54-40-29-69)|
|Reece Richmond (54-3-45-48)||5||Tynan Ewart (55-8-48-56)|
|Alexi Sylvestre (12-5-6-11)||Leading scorers (playoffs)||Southgate (9-4-14-18)|
|Jacob Vockler (11-4-6-10)||2||Bell (9-13-4-17)|
|Richmond (12-0-9-9)||3||Doell (9-4-12-16)|
|Ethan Mercer (12-6-1-7)||4||Kesslering (9-9-3-12)|
|Duperreault (7-4-3-7)||5||Ewart (9-1-8-9)|
|Harmon Laser-Hume (44 GP, 28-11-2-2, 2.57 GAA, .913 SV% regular season, 12 GP, 8-2-2, 1.75 GAA, .945 SV% playoffs)||Starting goalie||Josh Kotai (39 GP, 32-4-2-1, 2.39 GAA, .935 SV% regular season, 9 GP, 8-1-0, 1.60 GAA, .945 SV% playoffs)|
|Mike Reagan||Head coach||Brayden Klimosko|
|3.57||Goals per game||5.07|
|2.73||Goals against per game||2.46|
|2.75||Goals per game (playoffs)||4.56|
|2||Goals against per game (playoffs)||1.67|
|Four (Duperreault, Mercier, Tremblay, Vockler)||NCAA Division I committed players||Three (Doell, Kotai, Southgate)|
|Eight (Cain, Duperreault, Lucas Fry, King, Ethan Mercer, Mercier, Richmond, Alex Von Sprecken)||2002-born players||Seven (Ewart, Kesslering, Keiton Klein, Zane Florence, Southgate, Wilson Steele, Emmett Wurst)|
|Two (Cory King, Rylan Pearce)||Major junior players||Three (Bell, Justen Maric, Evan Waldie)|
|honourable mention||CJHL Top 20 ranking (year-end)||2nd|