Defence shuts door for upstart Bombers

With improved blue line performance playing a part, the Flin Flon Bombers have been racking up wins lately.

As of Sunday, the Bombers were on a nine-game winning streak. That included a crazy comeback on Saturday, as the hosts rebounded from trailing 5-2 to start the third to beat Battlefords 6-5 in overtime.

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After the weekend the Bombers were 29-13-0-2 on the season, and with 60 points are only behind  the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League-leading Nipawin Hawks, with 65.

“I think the team has just bonded over the stretch and, for the most part, bought into what we are asking them to do,” Bombers head coach Mike Reagan.

With two Bomber forwards ranking in the top four in the SJHL in scoring and three others in the top 20, the team’s defencemen might get a bit overlooked. However, the blue line knows its role and value.

“This defensive group is going to be a huge reason for our success,” said defenceman Calvon Boots, a 20-year-old from Fairbanks, Alaska. “We know that our frontend is probably the deepest in the league. So, we just have to worry about playing defence first and get the pucks up to the forwards.” 

The defence corps includes four returning players from last season, four rookies, and Tyler Higgins, a 20-year-old D-man with major junior experience who was added Dec. 1.

“I think, for the most part, our D have been a lot tougher to play against lately and adding Higgins is a huge reason for that,” Reagan said. “Our top four are real good and our young guys are progressing nicely.”

The Bombers defencemen range in age from 17 to 21. They hail from four Canadian provinces and one US state.

“I think we have a great group of guys on the backend,” said Mason Martin, a 19-year-old from Winnipeg. “We all support each other and we’re always pushing each other to be the best... not only that, but we all get along really well and we have a tight bond in the D core.”

Boots leads the Flin Flon defencemen in scoring. His 41 points rank him second among SJHL blue liners. He often is paired with Isaac Jackson, who recently turned 21. Jackson grew up in Flin Flon before moving to Warman as a teen. Jackson already has a career-high 23 points this season.

With 12 points, Martin has more than doubled the five he posted as a rookie last season. He has been paired often with Higgins after the Beaconsfield, Que. product was acquired. Higgins has six points in 18 games.

In Higgins, Jackson, and Boots, the Bombers have three 20-year-olds on the blue line. Rookie Ryder Richmond, a Forrest, Man. native who recently turned 19, said as a young guy in a new league, having veterans is a huge help.

“When you get to watch and practice with them, you start to realize all the small things they do that make them better players, whether that be stick positioning or getting your shots through to the net,” he said.

Vaughan Bamford, a 19-year-old in his second season with the Bombers, has nine assists on the season. Bamford has also played forward for Flin Flon and recently committed to play NCAA Division III hockey next season with the Lake Forest College Foresters. He is often paired with one of the rookies.

Eighteen-year-old D-man Brady Morrison, who is from Chilliwack, B.C, and Jaxon White of Warman have each recorded an assist for the Bombers.

The latest addition to the D corps is Jack Michell. The 17-year-old Saskatoon product was added at the Jan. 10 trade deadline. Including his time with Estevan, he has three goals and six points this season.

“He thinks the game well,” Reagan said. “There is a learning curve for young guys and it’s a process. As long as he keeps working hard and doing the things we ask he’s going to be a very good D for us.”

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