Deep Reads: Reliving the Bombers' improbable 1992-93 championship run

It was the spring of 1993. The Flin Flon Bombers had been going through a prolonged cold snap as a franchise, unable to win even a single playoff series since joining the SJHL in 1984. With the team’s best ever season points finish, good enough for fourth in the league, the team hoped to break the streak.

The Bombers entered the playoffs strong, but hardly as favourites. Flin Flon finished second in a competitive North division with 77 points, just one point behind first-place Melfort. By contrast, the Melville Millionaires were a juggernaut in the south, ending the season with a whopping 95 points and a 43-12-9 record.

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On the scoring front, the Bombers were hardly world beaters but did enough to be the division’s best offence. The team’s top scorer that season, Rob Beck, finished fourth in the league with 84 points, but no other Bombers broke the top 20. Only Travis Cheyne and Chris Hatch, the Bombers’ captain, cracked 60 points that year. Nonetheless, the Bombers ended the season strong, with big wins over Humboldt, Melfort and the now-defunct Saskatoon Titans.

 

First round

Flin Flon would host Humboldt in their first round series, while the Mustangs would face Nipawin. The Bombers made quick work of the Broncos in the first two games, coming from behind late in Game 2 to win 6-5 - complete with, according to accounts from the March 18, 1993 issue of The Reminder, a stick-swinging incident between a Bomber fan and Humboldt coach Carl Van Camp. Once the series headed south, the Bombers dropped Game 3 6-3 before coming back with a 5-1 win, giving the maroon and white a 3-1 series lead. Beck scored a hat-trick and added an assist, putting the Broncos on the brink.

Gamesmanship extended off the ice during the series. During their trip north, the Broncos were reportedly forced to stay in The Pas instead of Flin Flon, adding a three-hour round trip commute to each game. Once the series moved south, that favour was returned when the Bombers had to stay in Watson, a more manageable 50 kilometres away from their opponent’s home rink.

The Bombers ended the series with a 5-3 win at home in Game 5. It was the first time the Bombers had won a playoff series in almost a decade, with defencemen Aaron Cain and Jason Brown teaming up for four points including the series-winning goal.

“Bring on the next one!” read an article by Reminder sports reporter J.D. Arthur at the end of the March 24 article chronicling the end of the series.

 

Second round

The Bombers faced Nipawin in the next round, the same team that had beat division leaders Melfort in six games in what Arthur described as “one of the biggest upsets in SJHL history.” Local governments got in on the fun, with prominent figures in Nipawin challenging Flin Flon luminaries. The winning community would host a reception for leaders from the losers, where the losing city’s fans would be forced to wear the winning team’s jerseys.

Things started well for the Bombers in the division final, earning a 4-2 lead at home in Game 1. Sniper Wally Spence, who had missed the entire first round series, potted one early, with Nolan Weir and Beck later following suit. A 6-2 Game 2 win sent the two teams back to Nipawin’s Centennial Arena - the “Cage” - for games three and four. A 3-1 win in Game 3 gave Bomber fans hope of a sweep, but a late Nipawin 5-4 comeback made those fans stash away the brooms.

That gave the Bombers a chance to win the division at home - a chance the Bombers took advantage of, winning Game 5 6-3 and sending Flin Flon into the league finals. A shorthanded goal by Bomber forward Jason Ahenakew sealed the Hawks’ fate.

Days later, a delegation of major figures from Nipawin - the community’s mayor, chief of police and the editor of the local paper among them - came north for a photo shoot with their Flin Flon counterparts, all clad in Bomber maroon.

The tomfoolery didn't last long. There was a title now at stake - and a juggernaut in the way.

 

Finals

In the league final, the Bombers would have to face the beast in the southeast - a dominant Melville Millionaires team. The Mils had the tightest defence in the SJHL that season, giving up less than three goals a night in the high-scoring early ‘90s. The Mils boasted goalie Clint Hooge, who had just put together one of the best seasons by an SJHL goalie at that point - a goals-against-average of 2.65 and 28 wins in 42 games. Heading into the Flin Flon series, Melville had only lost one game through two playoff rounds and had won the season series with the Bombers 3-1.

The Bombers were hardly slouches themselves. The team’s not-so-secret weapon was their main goalie, Dan Dennis. Dennis had set a new SJHL record for shutouts in a season that year with five. Between the semifinals and finals, Dennis put pen to paper on a scholarship offer from the NCAA’s Providence Friars, where he would play for four years after leaving the north. There was another layer to Dennis' story, too - he had played with Melville once before being traded north.

The Bombers liked their chances.

“I think it’ll be a heckuva series,” Bomber coach Norm Johnston was quoted as saying.

“They’ve got four lines that can contribute, just like us. We match up very well against each other.”

“Melville hits but they haven’t got the speed of a team like Nipawin. I think we’re very evenly matched,” said Bomber assistant coach Mel Pearson.

Even outlook or not, the series started poorly for Flin Flon. The Millionaires took both Game 1 and 2 on home ice, holding the Bombers to 4-1 and 3-2 losses. Once the series shifted north though, the Bombers began to claw back, winning a 5-2 Game 3 in front of a packed home crowd. Home video of the games played between the Bombers and Millionaires show a Whitney Forum with virtually no space to move for fans. Reported attendance for games in the final series was over the 2,000 mark, later described by reporter Arthur as “an electric, carnival atmosphere.”

In Game 4, the Bombers fought off the Mils again to snag a 3-2 win, tying the series and turning a best-of-seven into a best-of-three.

Back down south, Melville earned a 3-1 Game 5 win to put themselves one game away from the title, but once the series headed back north, the Bombers held down the fort. Beck opened the scoring with a top-shelf backhand off a breakaway, sending the Forum faithful into frenzy, sliding on his backside into the neutral zone in celebration. Melville scored two more goals, but Todd Heck found the twine behind Hooge to tie it, then Beck scored on a one-time pass from Spence to seal the win. Bomber fans, who had added a banner that said “Melville Sucks” behind one net, exploded.

The hometown boys had forced a Game 7, do or die, on enemy ice.

 

Game 7

With the puck dropping in Melville during a series where the home team had won every game, the odds may have skewed toward the Mils. The scoresheet pointed that way early, as Melville snuck into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead on a goal by Darren Maloney.

Once the second period came, the Bombers woke up. Beck scored, as did teammate Cheyne. Beck added another. Cheyne did the same. The Bombers held a late 4-2 lead, but the Millionaires added a goal with the end fast approaching, giving fans pause with moments remaining.

That pause would be temporary. With only 22 seconds left on the clock, Beck - wearing number 22, appropriately enough - slid an empty netter into the vacant Melville cage, icing the title for the Bombers.

“We knew we had to go into somebody’s barn and win. It’s just something that had to be done,” said Beck to The Reminder after hoisting the title.

“The first one was a Rob Beck-style goal,” Cheyne said of his tallies on the night, referencing his teammate.

“[My second one was] just my kind of goal.”

Millionaire coach Brad McEwen, courteous in defeat, ended up agreeing with Bomber coach Johnston’s pre-game assessment.

“It was a heckuva game and series - great to see the excitement and enthusiasm in both cities, but there’s one winner only.”

“Make room in the hallowed rafters of the Whitney Forum,” read the lede of Arthur’s front-page piece in The Reminder’s April 21 issue.

“We’ve got another banner.”

 

Bigger stages

With the league title in hand, the Bombers advanced to the Anavet Cup, pitting them against Manitoba champs Dauphin for a spot in the national championship tournament, then known as the Centennial Cup. While the Bombers played with captain Hatch, who had damaged ligaments in his knee, the Bombers showed well, winning the first game 5-3 at home. The Kings and Bombers would trade punches throughout the series, splitting the first four games before Flin Flon found another level, winning 8-5 in Game 5. With a berth in the national title tourney on the line in Game 6, the Bombers fought hard on Dauphin’s home ice. The score was knotted at 4-4 through 60 minutes, leading to what stands to this day as the longest game in Bomber history. The game reached quadruple overtime before Cheyne forced a rebound past Kings goalie Mike Temple, sending the Bombers to the national title tourney.

The Bombers’ luck ran out at the Centennial Cup, as the team went 0-4 through the round robin and was eliminated in group play. The BCHL’s Kelowna Spartans ended up winning the national title, while the Bombers headed home.

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