With play over and the ice torn out of the Whitney Forum, work is already underway on the next season of Flin Flon Bomber hockey.
The Bombers’ season was successful in most regards. The team wasn’t able to bring home silverware, but did come within one game of their first league title since 1993 and qualified for their first national title tournament - the Centennial Cup - since 2001.
In preparing for the Centennial Cup, Bomber head coach and general manager Mike Reagan said the team first had to get over the sting of losing Game 7 against Estevan in the SJHL finals. While the loss hurt, the players were able to move past it to a degree en route to making the quarterfinals in the Cup, eventually being eliminated in a double-OT heartstopper against Pickering.
“I think the big turning point that we saw from our guys, just in regards to their approach to practice and all that, was when we had the Centennial Cup kickoff party - it kind of brought closure to the season for us and I felt that our guys were able to reset,” said Reagan.
“The next practice that we had was our best practice. Going into the tournament, I felt like we had kind of put that behind us, from what I was seeing from the guys.”
Strategy for the tournament was to take each opponent as they came, focusing day by day and opponent by opponent. When the Bombers opened the tournament with a win over the NOJHL champion Soo Thunderbirds and an overtime thriller against the CCHL champs Ottawa Jr. Senators, the team proved they weren’t a charity case.
“I think the important thing is that we just took it a day at a time, so once we beat the NOJHL team, that was behind us and then we had to focus in on Ottawa. When we were able to get that win, I think that that was a point where our guys really felt like, ‘We've got a legit shot at this. We belong here,’” Reagan said.
The Bombers would lose a matchup with Summerside before beating Dauphin in a shootout, qualifying for the quarterfinals before losing to Pickering.
“Every game is emotional, for sure,” said the coach.
With the Centennial Cup now in the past, the Bombers’ offseason will kick into full gear.
Only one transaction from the regular season remains unfinished - the deal swung by Reagan with the Weyburn Red Wings to bring forward Drew Kuzma up north. That deal brought Kuzma to the Bombers (along with a fourth round pick in this year’s SJHL draft, which is held this Friday) for a player development fee, the Bombers’ second round pick in the draft and future considerations.
The “future considerations” part of the deal is still owed by the Bombers to Weyburn as of press time - while discussions have been ongoing, the coach said that terms have not yet been finalized between the Bombers and Red Wings, but the Bombers were unlikely to give up any players from their current active roster.
The Bombers will be able to return most of their top six forwards, with six of the team’s top 10 scorers by year-end - Jaxon Martens, Kuzma, Jaeden Mercier, Cole Duperreault, Jacob Vockler and Jeremi Tremblay - all eligible to return for next season. Vockler and Tremblay are also eligible to return for the Bombers for the 2023-24 season.
Flin Flon will also be able to return defenders Lucas Fry, Cory King, Noah Kuntz, Reece Richmond and Cole Tanchuk, losing arguably the team’s top three defenders from last year - Xavier Lapointe (who is eligible to return but who will play American college hockey), Rylan Thiessen and Cole Vardy.
With a season of play in the books the emerging young core, Reagan said the team - which was unable, like other SJHL clubs, to play the 2020-21 season - has had ample time to see what the new crew can do.
“I think the nice thing is we've got a very good understanding of what our core looks like, as opposed to a year ago. When you have guys like Martens, Duperreault, Tanchuk or Kylynn Olafson, we had a lot of guys that we were high on but we didn't really know what they were going to bring to the table, because we didn't have a season the year before,” Reagan said.
“We're expecting big things out of our core that is coming back. We played almost half a season more than a lot of teams. From a development standpoint, that goes a long way. I think that our guys learned a lot about what it takes to win and playing in pressure situations.”
The club already held their spring camp - the same weekend as the team’s Game 7 Estevan loss, which Reagan said took an emotional toll - and found some new gems. Reagan and assistant head coach and general manager Cole McCaig got to Saskatoon for the second day of camp after leaving from Estevan the morning after the loss - while neither had a chance to watch camp firsthand on day one, they went right into scouting on day two.
“We're happy with what we saw. We didn't have an opportunity to see the full camp so it was difficult to really assess where guys were because we're just trying to get familiar with guys as quick as possible, but I think we're pretty happy with what we saw,” he said.
The team will announce their newest round of committed players throughout the summer - some players, like forwards Gregory Diamond, Dawson Karol and Liam Bridger and defenders Liam Foley and Dryden Jeannot, have already been officially announced by the team. Other players, namely forward Joey Lies and defender Rylan Pearce, have committed to play for the team if they don’t make the cut with WHL clubs this fall.
More committed players will be announced by the team throughout the summer - in the past the team has announced two new players each week via the team’s website and official social media channels. Reagan said the club will do the same this summer, while not tipping his hat as to how many signees the team will bring in.
“I think that recruiting went real well. We're going to be announcing two of our signed players per week so fans will start to see what our recruits look like and what the future holds for the team,” he said.
“Other than that, we're pretty much done our recruiting. I think that we're always looking to improve our team, but we're pretty comfortable with where at the core of our team is.”