The boys of winter have gone home. With their team and their league suspended for the time being, the Flin Flon Bombers split up early for the holidays last month, sending players back after a roller-coaster ride of an early season.
After getting the chance to play two games, losing both, Manitoba went into “code red” last month, effectively halting the Bombers’ season. The team came up with a plan B, requesting to only play road games, to hold practices at the Creighton Sportex and move players to Saskatchewan - 19 players would move into Denare Beach with the rest in Creighton. No games would be held in Creighton or Flin Flon – only practices at the Sportex. The Bombers had tentatively planned for this situation in the offseason, but the plan needed to be rolled out fast.
“We’d done a walkthrough with the Town of Creighton, had communication with the Town and everything like that. We had this plan in place before the season started. When Manitoba shut down, we had a meeting with both local governments and put forth three different options. We were told option A and B weren’t realistic - Manitoba didn’t want us to have anything to do with the Forum or the City of Flin Flon. We planned to move everything then,” said head coach and GM Mike Reagan.
One problem - approval (or disapproval) of the team’s plan wasn’t coming from the Saskatchewan government. It was radio silence for two days, then four, then eight - eventually, 14 days passed with no answers.
“We were in kind of a two week limbo there where we didn’t know what was coming. I have a hard time believing that the powers that be didn’t see this coming. That’s the frustrating thing, when you’re sitting there waiting minute by minute waiting for guidance, those minutes feel like hours and the hours feel like days,” Reagan said.
During this time, Reagan was tasked with keeping the players on top of whatever was going on, but with no new information, everybody involved, including the coach, became restless.
“I think the biggest thing was that I tried to be honest with the guys as much as possible and not sugarcoat anything. The frustrating thing was, every time we talked to the guys, I felt like I was giving them bad news,” Reagan said.
“As a coach, that’s a tough thing to do, when your players are looking at you for answers and you can’t give them any. I think the biggest thing is after every piece of news, we asked the guys to be honest with us and ask questions and it was okay to be frustrated, it was okay to be mad.”
The hiatus made what was at one point unthinkable - shutting the season down for a spell and suspending the team - now the best option on the table.
“We were waiting for the green light to go and we couldn’t get those answers. The players knew we weren’t getting any answers,” Reagan said.
Before making the final decision, Reagan held a team meeting and asked the players what they wanted to do - if they wanted to continue what was an uphill fight, or to go home, regroup, spend the holidays with their families and take things on again in the new year.
“We felt we had waited long enough. We were told to wait for two weeks and wait a little longer and our patience was wearing thin. The players looked extremely frustrated and mentally drained,” the coach said.
The players chose to go home.
“If you’re off the ice for three days, that’s a long time. Our players had been off the ice for 14 days. I left it up to the players and they decided that, if we haven’t got answers, why would we get good news coming up?” Reagan said.
“It got to the point where on the Monday, we decided we were going to send the players home.”
The team has halted all on-ice operations until 2021, when the team’s postponement will be revisited. What might happen in the new year is still a mystery - Manitoba’s “code red” restrictions are slated to end next month.
“It was almost a relief for the players when they decided it. I told them I didn’t blame any of them for going home. At this point, I was so worn down and frustrated. I wasn’t sleeping at night. You’re waiting for that one phone call and in this situation, no news is worse than bad news because at least with bad news, you know the answer,” said Reagan.
“I’m not going to lie. The next day, I woke up and… you know, it sucked, but I felt so much better because I knew what was going on.”
Players headed home, each getting a home workout plan from the team to knock off any holiday rust. The five WHL loan players the Bombers brought in are currently slated to start their seasons in January, but league sources say the start of the WHL season may be delayed well past New Year’s, meaning those five players could possibly be back in maroon and white. Nobody knows for sure.
When talking about what may come next in January, Reagan is unsure. Last season, Reagan said he held out hope that the league would get approval to continue the playoffs at some point, even well into the summer, convinced he finally had “the group” to end Flin Flon’s now-27 year title drought.
“I believe last year’s team might have been the best team that we’ve had in my time here. We’d been working so hard to try and win a championship and you feel like it’s within reach, and it gets taken away,” Reagan said.
Ideas have been thrown around in league circles casually - the idea of a setting up a “bubble” in one central location has been mentioned but never for too long, along with delaying the season further after January. Nobody knows for sure.
“I’ll be honest with you, I think everybody needed to take a week or so to take a deep breath and digest this. I’m sure we’re going to start talking about some plans in the next week or so,” Reagan said.
When the Bombers return, they’ll need to be tested, screened and be subject to a quarantine period before they can safely play. The goal isn’t just to get back on the ice - it’s to do it safely.
“This is my biggest concern. I don’t want to start too early and then shutdown again, then have to restart. I think if we can wait a little bit longer, that would be better for us,” Reagan said.
Thinking of how things have gone since the season began, Reagan remembers the league scheduling meetings this past fall.
“One of the things I said to the group was ‘expect the unexpected’. You’d have to be pretty naive to go into the season thinking that there wasn't the potential for this,” he said.
“As frustrating as it was, you prepare yourself for this being a possibility. You try not to get too worked up because it’s not going to solve anything. You just have to roll with the punches and that’s been our mentality as a team - don’t get too worked up over things we can’t control.”