The Flin Flon Bombers are bidding to host Canada’s national junior A tournament.
Executive board members with the Bombers confirmed May 3 that the team has put a bid forward to host the 2021 National Junior A Championship (NJAC), formerly known as the RBC Cup and Royal Bank Cup.
“Within a couple of weeks, we should know if we’re shortlisted. Then, we’ll know more from there,” said Travis Rideout, board president for the Bombers. “We’re kind of holding our cards close to see what happens.”
Rumours of a potential bid to host the championship have bubbled to the surface repeatedly in recent years, but no announcement confirming said rumours had been made until last week.
“We have a lot to offer,” Rideout said. “We have a historic arena, a great team and coaching staff and a community that is filled with great volunteers and sponsors.”
A number of other communities have announced intentions to host the 2021 edition of the tournament, including Penticton, BC, Nanaimo, BC, Salmon Arm, BC, Trail, BC and Estevan, Sask.
The Bombers last hosted the national championship in 2001. That year, the Bombers finished third in the five-team round robin before upsetting the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) champion Weyburn Red Wings 4-0 in the tournament semifinal, setting up a date with the Camrose Kodiaks for the national title. The game was broadcast nationally on TSN and the Whitney Forum was packed with spectators. Ultimately, the Bombers lost 5-0.
“That tournament has had lasting effects on this town,” said Rideout. “At that time, it became the benchmark for the tournaments since then. It was both a success on the ice and a financial success and we feel that can be mirrored in 2021.”
The bidding process for the 2021 event will continue later in May, when Hockey Canada will create a shortlist of contending hosts. Then, communities and clubs on the list will give an in-person pitch to Hockey Canada executives before the final announcement will be made in June.
“We know that we’re in against some heavy hitters, but we’re ready for the fight,” said Rideout. “We also know that what sets us apart from other bids is this is more than just an event. The excitement and enthusiasm can’t be matched. The town shuts down and the entire week is about the tournament.”
This year’s NJAC will be held in Brooks, Alta., while the 2020 NJAC will be held in Portage la Prairie, Man.
Each year, the NJAC features five teams, including a host team, the winners of the Doyle Cup (between the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL)), Anavet Cup (between the SJHL and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL)), the Fred Page Cup (fought between the winners of three Junior ‘A’ leagues in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada and a host team) and the Dudley Hewitt Cup (held with the winners of three Ontario leagues and a host team).
That 2000-01 season leading up to the Bombers’ last National Junior A Championship is still fresh in the minds of fans and former players who were a part of the event.
Mark Debusschere was the captain of the Bombers during the tournament.
Now a chartered accountant and business owner in Saskatoon, Debusschere can still vividly remember what was then known as the Royal Bank Cup championship tournament.
“I remember the Whitney Forum just rockin’. That was unlike any other games we had. Playoffs were something, but having it packed like that... The city was electric and the fans were out in full force,” he said.
That season, the Bombers were a force to be reckoned with, finishing with a 44-15-3 record and ending the season with the most points of any team in the league. That success petered out in the playoffs, with the Bombers running into the Nipawin Hawks in the league semifinals and losing out in five games. The Hawks would later lose to Weyburn in five, with the Wings taking the league title and going on to top the OCN Blizzard in the Anavet Cup.
Almost two decades later, Debusschere still thinks of what could have happened if the Bombers handled the Hawks and Wings and won the league title.
“We would have liked to enter that tournament through the front door, not to run into a hot goalie in Nipawin and not make it through the front door,” he said, before imagining what an all-northern Manitoba Anavet Cup would look like.
“OCN won Manitoba that year. Just think about that series. That could have been just as big as the Royal Bank Cup, and it would have got them into the Royal Bank Cup as well since we would have been in already. That would have added even another level. Those preseason games are huge, and they mean nothing, but I remember playing in those games against the Tootoo brothers and it was like, ‘oh God.’”
Debusschere said the team had a tangible feeling of excitement throughout the season, knowing there was a chance they would compete for national hardware.
“There’s so much excitement around that the whole year. You build for that. It can be a challenge for the host team to contain all that and help build, but it helps the team so much financially. It gives you some more legs to stand on, for a couple of seasons at least,” he said.
Debusschere and his former teammates still meet up once or twice a year, most recently playing together at the Roller Goodwin Hockey Tournament in Flin Flon last summer.
“My first reaction was excitement for the community and the team,” he said of when he first heard of the 2021 NJAC bid.
“There’s always doom and gloom around the mine and this would be good for the community to get some excitement again, to get some money injected into the community too.”