The Flin Flon Bombers’ season was scrubbed due to COVID-19 - now the team’s coaches and scouts are doing their best to salvage the team’s offseason.
Normally by late May, junior A teams would be in full-on reconstruction mode. The league’s title is usually awarded by mid-April, with the Anavet Cup wrapping up by early May and the newly renamed Centennial Cup (formerly the RBC Cup or National Junior A Championship) scheduled from May 9-17. The disruption in the schedule has had a ripple effect on every offseason practice.
The speed of the shutdown led to some issues with the team’s typical end-of-season process. Bombers staff were unable to reach every player before they headed home, holding on to hope that the season may be restored. Bomber head coach and general manager Mike Reagan said the team is trying to hold virtual exit meetings.
“Probably the biggest change is we weren't able to do exit interviews with our guys at the end of last year. Now, we're looking into setting up Zoom meetings,” he said.
“We get the guys together to have meetings with them, to give that kind of closure to the season and stuff like that. I think there was always some hope that we would be able to finish the playoffs at some point, so there was no point in having meetings before we knew the season was officially terminated.”
The Bombers, along with most other junior A teams, have a tried and true strategy for player discovery and development every offseason. That strategy includes the team’s annual spring camp in Saskatoon - which has been cancelled, since mass gatherings in Saskatchewan are still forbidden by public health order.
“That's definitely a big change, where you don't get to see the players that you've committed to play live. I guess we're having to put a lot of confidence in our scouting staff and that sort of thing,” he said.
The sudden shutdown to the SJHL playoffs caught every team off guard, including the Bombers. Flin Flon was the only team in the league to successfully punch their ticket to the second round, beating Humboldt in four straight games.
The limits on gatherings also will mean changes for another major offseason event - the annual league meeting, which includes the SJHL’s bantam draft. Previously held in person, the event will be held entirely via distance for the first time June 5.
“I'm not really sure how it's all going to play out. It's an interesting time, that's for sure. There's no manual for something like this,” Reagan said.
Despite the changes, Reagan and the rest of the Bomber staff already know who they want up north. The team’s scouts and talent evaluators have found 11 players who have committed to the team for the upcoming season, even without Reagan and other coaches getting the chance to see them in person at spring camp.
“Typically, I've already been out recruiting by now if we aren't playing. That's been a lot different, but in saying that, for recruiting, we're pretty much done with that. We were fortunate enough where we had our eye on our targeted guys long before they stopped and we were able to get 11 guys to commit to us. That's been a real positive thing, that I'm not really left scrambling by trying to go out and recruit anybody,” Reagan said.
“We feel very comfortable with the guys that we've committed to and believe that nothing would have changed their mind or opinion on them.”
Reagan is keeping his cards close to his chest on recruiting and the team’s plans ahead of the SJHL league meetings. He's officially named none of the players who have either verbally committed or signed letters of intent with the team.
Last year, the Bombers brought in a total of five midget-aged affiliate skaters for at least a game with the team. Forwards Mackenzie Carson, Cole Duperreault and Ashton Ferster, along with defenders Noah Kuntz and Marek Schneider, each played for a short time. The team announced their first two official commitments to defenceman Jordan Pfoh and Duperreault June 2 and June 4.
“We're not announcing anything till after June 1,” Reagan said on player commitments in late May.
“I'd rather wait till they officially signed a Hockey Canada registration card before we go and announce anything.”