This year’s tentative Flin Flon Bomber roster is out ahead of preseason play later this week.
The Bombers have released a 28-man roster for the preseason, bringing a pair of goalies, 10 defencemen and 16 forwards into the unorthodox exhibition season.
The forward corps features most of the team’s returning players - the Haygarth brothers, Chase and Easton, with Hayden Clayton, Matt Flodell, Mason Kaspick, Billy Klymchuk, Jaeden Mercier, Matt Raymond and Reid Robertson. All the returnees but Kaspick, Mercier and Raymond enter the year in their final season of junior eligibility.
That group is bolstered by a star-studded cast of new recruits, capped off by ex-major junior player Zach Huber. A former standout in the Alberta minor hockey ranks, Huber played four seasons of major junior with the Calgary Hitmen and Saskatoon Blades in the WHL before the Blades cut him earlier this year.
Rookies with high expectations include Cole Duperreault, who put up a remarkable 30 goals and 73 points in 44 Saskatchewan U18 AAA games last season, beating every other SJHL rookie from the league. In a circuit whose standouts either go the major junior route or to other western Canadian leagues, Duperreault outscored the nearest SJHL recruit - Weyburn rookie Connor McGrath - by 24 points.
Another possible first-year sensation is Nathan Gagne, the latest in Bomber head coach and general manager’s prized forward recruits from Quebec. The Saint-Jerome product comes in the skate tracks of ex-Bombers Chrystopher Collin, Donavan Houle-Villeneuve, Vincent Nardone and Tristan Lemyre - each of whom would come to Flin Flon and earn a scholarship to a top NCAA Division I school. Originally from the same U16 and U18 program that produced Collin, Nardone and Lemyre, Gagne joined the Ontario Hockey Academy U18 prep team last year, putting up 48 points in 28 games.
Other top Saskatchewan new faces up front include the lanky Ashton Ferster, sniper/power forward Mackenzie Carson and two-way camp standout Jaxon Martens. Manitoba U18 AAA star Drayden Kurbatoff rounds out the group.
As anticipated, the Bombers’ defense will be a very inexperienced crew - only one returning player, Ryder Richmond, is likely to start the season with the Bombers. Another returnee, Cole Vardy, is still nursing an injury suffered during the Bombers’ abbreviated playoff run and will not likely be good to play until the new year.
To fill out the roster comes no fewer than seven rookie defencemen for the preseason - Collin Jennings, Noah Kuntz, Ayden Lane, Ethan McColm, Jordan Pfoh (a local product), Reece Richmond (Ryder’s younger brother) and Marek Schneider. The preseason opening night defence group combined has played 98 regular season games in maroon and white - the elder Richmond has 93 of those.
Out of the group of newbies, only Kuntz and Schneider have experience in a Bomber sweater, and only then in spot duty as affiliate players last season - three games for Kuntz, two for Schneider. Schneider, the younger brother of New York Rangers first-round pick Braden, spent a short stint last year with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
Another defender, Lucas Fry, played 20 games as a 17-year-old last season with the MJHL’s Steinbach Pistons, but has not played an SJHL game.
In the crease, the Bombers’ picture is clearly defined - hulking netminder Cal Schell and younger, smaller backup Jared Thompson. Schell joined the Bombers last season at the Jan. 10 roster deadline and backed-up ex-Bomber netminder Jacob Delorme, putting up superior numbers to the starter in limited late-season duty. Thompson, the reigning Saskatchewan U18 AAA goalie of the year, will be the team’s other option - three other goalies brought to camp by the club have been returned to Saskatchewan AAA U18 teams.
Teams across the SJHL also released their rosters ahead of the presumptive preseason start date - as of Oct. 19, the only teams that had not posted their preseason rosters for public view online were the Battlefords North Stars, Kindersley Klippers, Melfort Mustangs and Nipawin Hawks.
It will be a year of change in the SJHL, at least among top talent. None of the top 10 scorers in the league last season are slated to return to the SJHL this season, even though two are eligible - Battlefords’ Austin Becker is not listed on preliminary team lists from the team’s training camp, while Flin Flon’s Lemyre has moved south to join the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. Only five returning listed SJHL players - Humboldt’s Tristan Shewchuk and Luke Spadafora, Flin Flon’s Haygarth brothers and Eddie Gallagher for the Estevan Bruins - broke the 50-point barrier last season.
The La Ronge Ice Wolves, the opponent for all four preseason Bomber games and likely a frequent opponent in mini-league competition, also announced their preseason roster. Both the team’s star goalies - starter Liam McGarva and backup Xavier Cannon - are back from last year, along with returnees like bulky D-man Logan Holm and forwards Aaron Greyeyes and Spencer Kennedy.
The Ice Wolves have their own group of Quebecois rookies this year, including Mathieu Belanger. Belanger, a former minor hockey teammate of Lemyre and Gagne, came to Bomber camp last season and was cut, then joined the Weyburn Red Wings. The Ice Wolves acquired the forward in the offseason, along with ex-Philadelphia Little Flyers standout William Smith and former WSHL star Narek Aleksanyan, a possible darkhorse rookie of the year candidate.