With their gutsy Game 7 win Tuesday night, the Bombers will face the Humboldt Broncos in the league semifinals, starting this weekend. Here's what you need to know.
While the Bombers' first round series was a rematch of last year's SJHL final with Estevan, the second round will feature another rematch. The Broncos and Bombers played each other in the league semifinals last year, with the Bombers knocking off a highly favoured Humboldt team in five games.
Nine players from that series win last year remain on the Bomber roster - while many of Humboldt's top players like Rayce Ramsay, Connor McGrath and Matthew Perkins have left the Broncos, the team will return nine players of their own from last year's playoff defeat.
The Broncos hold the edge over the Bombers in head-to-head games this year. Out of the six times the team met, Humboldt picked up four wins, needing overtime twice to settle the score.
In their first meeting, Humboldt got a 2-1 overtime win over the Bombers Oct. 2, but the Bombers got some revenge Nov. 20, knocking off the Broncos 4-1 at the Elgar Petersen Arena on the strength of a Cole Duperreault hat-trick. Flin Flon would do it again Jan. 6, beating Humboldt 6-2 at the Whitney Forum, but the Broncos would win the teams' next three contests - 2-0 in Flin Flon Jan. 7 (one of only two times the Bombers have been shut out, including playoff games), 5-2 Jan. 12 and 3-2 in a shootout March 1.
The Broncos, who ended the season with 81 points, will have home ice advantage and play the first two games of the series at the Elgar Petersen Arena March 31 and April 1. The series will swing back to Flin Flon's raucous Whitney Forum for Games 3 and 4 April 4 and 5. Humboldt will observe the five-year anniversary of the team's infamous bus crash April 6, before playing Game 5 (if needed) in Humboldt April 7. Game 6 (if needed) will be played in Flin Flon April 9 and, if it's needed, a win-or-go-home Game 7 will be played in Humboldt April 11.
The biggest story surrounding the Broncos heading into the second round was not on the ice - it was goaltender Jared Picklyk, who was arrested and charged with refusal to comply with a breath screening after a vehicle accident March 25. Picklyk, whose Broncos had eliminated the Nipawin Hawks in a playoff game the night before, was suspended indefinitely by the SJHL - according to the Broncos' SJHL roster page, Picklyk has now been removed from the team's roster entirely.
With Picklyk gone, the Broncos' crease will belong to Benjamin Motew, a 5-foot-11, 172 pound native of Glencoe, Illinois. Motew and Picklyk had been alternating starts for the Broncos for much of the season, including during Humboldt's series with Nipawin.
Through the regular season, Motew had a 17-6-1 record with a 2.73 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage. Through two games against Nipawin, he stopped 55 of 58 shots he faced, getting wins in both Games 2 and 4.
Backing up Motew will be Brady Holtvogt, a 15-year-old Humboldt native and affiliate player who was part of the AAA Prince Albert Mintos this year. Holtvogt played one game for the Broncos this year, their final game of the regular season where the Broncos ran a 12-skater roster made up mostly of affiliate players. That game ended in a 10-2 loss, with Holtvogt stopping 29 of 35 shots.
Flin Flon's man in the pipes will continue to be Harmon Laser-Hume, who put up sterling numbers in the first round of the playoffs. Laser-Hume had a .941 save percentage through all seven games, giving up just 13 goals during the entire series and even chipped in offensively, getting an assist on Duperreault's knucklepuck series winner in Game 7.
Humboldt's offence does not rely on one or two star players - instead, the team rolls multiple lines of offensive threats. Three Broncos - Ethan Zielke, Cage Newans and Lucas Ceccarelli - finished this season over a point per game, while other players like Alec Saretzky, Tim Kim, Ben Kotylak and defenceman Daylan Weigel all cleared the 40 point mark.
Some coaches believe in rotating their teams' lines, but Humboldt head coach and general manager Scott Barney doesn't appear to be one of them - the Broncos ran with the same four forward lines for all five of their opening round games.
Saretzky and Ceccarelli suited up with forward Spencer Bell, who was acquired from Alberta mid-season, while Kim and Zielke teamed up with 16-year-old rookie Matthew Van Blaricom. Jacob Boucher, who started the season hot until running into injury trouble, plays with Newans and Maddox Amaral, while Kotylak, Xavier Roy and Samuel Marburg fill out another line.
The Broncos' entire 18-player skater group logged at least one point during their first-round series against Nipawin.
Flin Flon's scoring was all over the place late in the season, with the team's top five scoring forwards all out of the lineup for multiple games nursing injuries. Four of the five players are back in the lineup and were key in the Bombers pushing past Estevan.
Rookie Alexi Sylvestre led the way for the team offensively with three goals and five points in seven games, while Jacob Vockler and Cory King also chipped in five points. Duperreault was a difference maker in the two games he played in, putting in two goals and three points, including the Game 7 overtime winner Tuesday night.
A wildcard for the Bombers will be whether or not Jaeden Mercier will be able to play. Mercier, who had been out with an injury since Jan. 24, came back to start the series for the Bombers, but was injured again in Game 4 against Estevan. He hasn't hit the ice in game action since.
Humboldt also possesses the SJHL's best powerplay and penalty kill through the regular season, trends that continued into the first round. The Broncos converted on nine of 25 powerplay chances against Nipawin in round one, while the team gave up only one powerplay goal, killing off 19 of 20 penalties they took.
If any SJHL team can give Humboldt a run for their money on special teams, it's Flin Flon, who finished the season with the league's second-best powerplay despite injuries to key personnel and the league's fourth-best PK. Those trends also continued into the first round, where the Bombers converted six times on 24 chances with a man up and gave up four powerplay goals on 24 penalties.
The Bombers' top PP unit put up the best numbers for powerplays in the league this season, with Reece Richmond leading the SJHL in powerplay assists with 29, Duperreault leading the league in powerplay goals with 18 and Duperreault leading the league with powerplay points with 31. Mercier (29 points, including 29 assists) and Jeremi Tremblay (25 powerplay points, including 15 goals) also ranked highly.
With Mercier out of the lineup and Duperreault and Tremblay missing the first five games of the series, Ethan Mercer also appeared as a powerplay weapon for Flin Flon, scoring all three of his opening series goals with the man advantage.
|TALE OF THE TAPE|
|FLIN FLON BOMBERS||Team||HUMBOLDT BRONCOS|
|37-15-2-2||Regular season record||40-15-1-0|
|Sherwood||Division||Global Ag Risk Solutions|
|1st in Sherwood||Division finish||2nd in Global Ag Risk Solutions|
|Loss in final (to EST)||Last season result||Loss in semifinal (to FF)|
|Beat Estevan in seven games||Last series result||Beat Nipawin in five games|
|Cole Duperreault (44-37-27-64)||Leading scorers (regular season)||Cage Newans (54-20-37-57)|
|Jeremi Tremblay (44-27-28-55)||2||Lucas Ceccarelli (54-14-41-55)|
|Zach Cain (53-23-28-51)||3||Alec Saretzky (50-27-19-46)|
|Jaeden Mercier (38-12-38-50)||4||Ethan Zielke (43-20-26-46)|
|Reece Richmond (54-3-45-48)||5||Tim Kim (48-13-32-45)|
|Alexi Sylvestre (7-3-2-5)||Leading scorers (playoffs)||Newans (5-4-3-7)|
|Jacob Vockler (6-1-4-5)||2||Jacob Boucher (5-1-6-7)|
|Cory King (7-1-4-5)||3||Ceccarelli (5-4-2-6)|
|Richmond (7-0-4-4)||4||Spencer Bell (5-3-3-6)|
|Cole Tanchuk (7-0-4-4)||5||Xavier Roy (5-3-3-6)|
|Harmon Laser-Hume (44 GP, 28-11-2-2, 2.57 GAA, .913 SV% regular season, 7 GP, 4-1-2, 1.71 GAA, .941 SV%)||Starting goalie||Benjamin Motew (27 GP, 17-6-0-1, 2.73 GAA, .906 SV% regular season, 2 GP, 2-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .948 SV%)|
|Mike Reagan||Head coach||Scott Barney|
|3.57||Goals per game||4.14|
|2.73||Goals against per game||3.14|
|Four (Duperreault, Mercier, Tremblay, Vockler)||NCAA Division I committed players||Three (Carsten Kayter, Matthew Van Blaricom, Zielke)|
|Eight (Cain, Duperreault, Lucas Fry, King, Ethan Mercer, Mercier, Richmond, Alex Von Sprecken)||2002-born players||Seven (Boucher, Ceccarelli, Connor Casparie, Ben Kotylak, Chase Lacombe, Samuel Marburg, Saretzky)|
|Two (Cory King, Rylan Pearce)||Major junior players||Five (Boucher, Lacombe, Newans, Roy, Daylan Weigel)|
|honourable mention||CJHL Top 20 ranking (year-end)||17th|