Two midget programs have recently paid recruiting dividends for the Flin Flon Bombers, and there are hopes that a third area, through a Canadian junior loophole, could be the team’s next hotspot.
One of the most reliable bases for the team in recent history isn’t that far from home, relatively speaking. The Winnipeg Thrashers and the Bombers have formed a strong bond in the past 18 months, with Highway 6 bringing plenty of young talented players north.
Adding offseason signings Reid Robertson and Billy Klymchuk, the Bombers could ice as many as seven Thrashers alumni this season, in addition to returning forwards Dylan Burton, Brandson Hein, Nate Hooper and Dawson MacKenzie, and defenseman Mason Martin.
Bombers head coach and general manager Mike Reagan said the team hasn’t specifically recruited Thrashers players this year, adding he hasn’t had to – Bomber players are doing it for him.
“There’s no question about that. Mason Martin was a big reason Reid and Billy wanted to come up to Flin Flon. They’d played with him the year before and they knew that Hein and Hooper were really good players for us. It’s attractive for us,” he said.
“When your players are happy, they’re your best advocates for recruiting other players they’ve played with.”
Another big recruiting pipeline has stretched from northern Manitoba to the western United States – Colorado, to be exact, and the Rocky Mountain Roughriders midget program.
Coached in part by Bombers US scout Brendan Phelps, the Roughriders contributed three rookie players to last year’s Bomber roster – Alaskans Calvon Boots, Ethan Daniels and Caleb Moretz. Defenseman Adam Millar also made the trip north, but was sent back south shortly into the season.
They’ll be joined by summer signing Alec Cokley, a speedy forward who scored 17 points in 17 games with the club last season. Both Boots and Moretz showed similar stats with the team before coming to Flin Flon – Boots had 19 points in 19 games as a defenseman, while Moretz had 20 points in 22 games.
A new push into the Maritimes could provide a third pipeline for the Bombers. Two of the team’s summer signees, forward David Hibbs and defender Paul Norman, originally hail from Newfoundland.
There are no junior A or major junior teams based in Newfoundland, leaving players from the province in a strange limbo with CJHL rules – since there’s no junior hockey, players from the province can leave for other provincial leagues before turning 18. Both Hibbs and Norman are 17-year-olds.
Reagan said three Newfoundland players attended the Bombers’ spring camp, including Hibbs and Norman.
“Two out of three isn’t bad,” he said.
“I think that they’re going to be really good players for us and open up some opportunities to get other good players for us out there.”
It is rare for underage players from Newfoundland to come to the SJHL, but not unprecedented. Two seasons ago, Gander’s own Adam Dawe exploded for the Notre Dame Hounds, scoring 64 points in 54 games, earning the league’s Rookie of the Year award and a scholarship to the Univ. of Maine.
“We’ve seen a couple of kids coming from Newfoundland here in the SJHL in the past couple of years that have been really good players, and it’s an untapped area. We worked hard at trying to get in there this year,” said Reagan.