As you can probably tell from our front page this week and from the answers to our man-on-the-street section down below, I made it down to Estevan for the Bombers/Bruins Game 7 matchup last week. It was a work outing, shooting photos of the game - and later on, with personal regret but professional duty, shooting celebration photos of the Bombers’ rivals winning the league trophy.
It was depressing, upsetting… take your pick of adjective, really. It hurt. It was not the finish I had hoped for. That’s not the story I want to share here, though. The story I want to tell you wasn’t from Friday night’s game - it was from Saturday morning.
The group of buddies I’d travelled down with and I were eating our go-away breakfast the next morning, getting a little bit of stick-to-your-ribs grub before an eight-hour drive home. Into this restaurant, pretty early in the morning, came one of the Bombers’ guys - they’ll remain anonymous since this clearly wasn’t their best day - who sat down to eat, by himself in a corner, clearly upset.
One member of our group of guys went over to chat with him, just to do the old common courtesy, a “bro check-up” if you will. When our friend came back, he relayed how their short conversation went.
Upon chatting, the first thing the Bomber said was “I’m sorry.” Not “Good morning”, not “how’s it going” - “I’m sorry.”
That hit me hard. These guys are absolutely taking this loss harder than the fans are, and the fans are already taking it pretty tough.
As a message to all involved from a life-long fan - no. Don’t you dare be ashamed. Don’t you dare think you let the community, the fans or each other down. You absolutely didn’t do that. Don’t be sorry. We’re proud of you guys.
Do you remember the last time a fifth-seeded team won the SJHL title? I don’t - and it’s kind of my job to know that type of crap. (By the way, it was 1998, when Weyburn managed to win a league title from the five spot. I hadn’t even turned four years old yet.)
Long story short, fifth seeds sometimes win in the first round and, on the off chance they get to the semis, often get absolutely annihilated once they get there. A fifth-seed hasn’t made the league final since 2004, and that team ended up losing in six.
In the SJHL, it’s often the juggernauts who end up winning the cup. Second-place Battlefords won in 2019. Top-seed Nipawin did it in 2018. The Stars did it in 2017 from the top spot, as second-place Melfort, both times over the Bombers.
Cinderella stories don’t happen much in junior hockey. It’s too cutthroat, too ruthless. There’s a lot of sponsorship money and a lot of gate revenue involved. There’s not much room for magic anymore - the stakes are too high.
Look at the eventual league champs, for instance - Estevan made 13 separate trades this year and had only three players left from the 2019-20 season on the team when they won. Flin Flon, by contrast, made nine moves and had six players from pre-COVID suit up for the team.
Out of Estevan’s top 10 scorers, four are eligible to come back - one will likely go to U.S. college hockey and another will likely be dealt in a future considerations agreement, so make it two. From Flin Flon’s top 10, eight guys can come back and almost all - except for college-bound Xavier Lapointe - are anticipated to.
That’s what makes the Bombers’ run, even if it wasn’t successful in the end, even more shocking, even more wonderful. These were players playing the right way, on a team built sustainably, doing things the world didn’t expect that they could.
These Bombers ran the gauntlet, playing series against the fourth, second and first place teams in the league respectively, beating two of those teams decisively and coming within a couple of bounces or a Game 5 tripping penalty away from glory.
There are players on this team - eight of them, in fact - who will age out of junior hockey this year. Most of the team can come back, but some won’t be able to. Some unsolicited advice from the town newspaper hack here - there’s plenty of good to look back on.
Playing a series against a team that beat you in the last game of the regular season, then won the first two games of the series? If you’re the 2021-22 Bombers, you just come back at home, beat them once, beat them again in overtime, steal a win on the road and clinch it on your own home ice, sending a shellshocked Battlefords North Stars team packing with a reverse sweep.
Playing a series against a top 20 national team with offensive talent out the wazoo, the MVP of the league in net and the top forward and rookie of the year on the first line? If you’re the 2021-22 Bombers, you just beat them twice on their own ice, take another win at home, never allow the stars to get a foothold, keep their goalie off his game and beat them in five, sending home the Humboldt Broncos before they even knew what happened.
Playing a series against the top team in the league, the national title tournament hosts who loaded up hard for this year and were a top 10 team in the country? These Bombers lit them up at the Whitney Forum twice, with horns a-blaring and goals piling up. Win, lose or draw, the fans who came to those games won’t soon forget the Bombers’ handiwork.
For Bomber players, personnel, volunteers and everyone around the team - y’all got this town closer to playoff glory than anyone in my lifetime has. It didn’t end the way you would have wanted, no, but do not let that distract from what has been accomplished. The fans had your back during the whole run - and that support doesn't and shouldn't just go away if the ultimate goal isn't reached. We've still got your backs now.
No one here has a damn thing to be ashamed of. Don’t be sorry. Be proud - like the rest of us are in you.