Mike Reagan still has unfinished business after 12 years as the Flin Flon Bombers’ head coach and general manager.
Reagan signed a new two-year deal with the club May 6, extending his term to the end of the 2020-2021 season.
“It’s an honour to coach the Flin Flon Bombers. I think playing for them was one of the biggest accomplishments I had growing up,” said Reagan. “Now, being able to coach them for 12 years going on to 13... If you would have asked me when I started coaching that I’d be coaching the Bombers for that long, I probably would have laughed and said, ‘Not a chance,’ but it’s funny how time flies… It’s been a good run and I think the only thing that’s been eluding us is that SJHL (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League) championship.”
The team has come close to the league title several times during Reagan’s tenure, but have failed to claim a Canalta Cup title. Losing the championship series in back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017 is the closest the team has gotten.
“It’s on my mind every day. Every day that I talk to a player, every day that I talk to a fan, every day that I go into the office, it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning – winning it,” he said.
The Bombers have faced stiff competition in the SJHL playoffs recently. In each of the past four seasons, the Bombers were eliminated by the team that moved on to win the league championship. This year, the Bombers came just short of a miraculous comeback in the second round versus the Battlefords North Stars, climbing from a three-games-to-none deficit to force a decisive seventh game on the road.
“I think with each year that you don’t win it, you want it even more. I really thought we had the team to do it this year and unfortunately, we dug ourselves such a hole early on in the series that it was too much to get out of,” said Reagan. “I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting as hard as they did and pushing it to a game seven and that.”
Before Reagan returned to coach the junior team he grew up watching and played for, the team was in the doldrums. After the high of the 2001 Royal Bank Cup came six straight disappointing seasons and three different coaches. Each new bench boss was unable to drag the team any higher than 10th in the 12-team league. The best result the Bombers had in that stretch was a 19-33-1-2 record in 2005-06.
“There were a few seasons where they didn’t win more than 10 games. I know, not once, was there a 20-win season in those years,” Reagan said.
During that time, the future Bomber coach was playing NCAA Division I hockey with Sacred Heart University. Each season, before heading back to school or, later in his playing career, leaving for the minor pro ranks, Reagan would skate with the team in Flin Flon. He wasn’t impressed.
“I would skate with the Bombers before I’d go back to college or go to play pro and I didn’t like what I was seeing. It was more about partying. The guys were here for the wrong reason,” he recalled.
When Reagan got the job, priority number one was to change the team’s culture, taking the team from being a refuge for players more concerned with chasing women and getting drunk to getting ready for on-ice success.
“We looked at guys who wanted to be hockey players, first and foremost,” he said. “One of the things I would tell the guys is if you were here to party and that was your top priority, then we don’t want you. That was the start of things. We needed to have guys coming here for the right reasons… I remember the first year I took over, I think we had 21 guys eligible to return. Of those guys, I think only about eight of them made the whole year. We got rid of the rest – 12, 13 guys.”
Since Reagan rejoined the club, the Bombers have made the SJHL playoffs each season, finishing above .500 in all but three of his 12 seasons with the team. That said, a .500 record is not the goal Reagan has for the club during the term of his new contract. The goal is to put the team in the best position possible to win a title.
“You don’t get to pick when you win. You can try to put yourself in the best position and that sort of thing. I don’t think anybody thought Nipawin would finish first overall this year after everything they lost. It goes to show you that, if you have the right pieces in place, anything’s possible. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Battlefords would win the league this year,” he said.
“I think anything is possible. We’re not looking at this as ‘We’re going to win in 2021.’ We’re approaching this as taking a run at the title this year. We have half our team that is still returning. Those guys are going to be better than they were last year and they develop. There are new opportunities for those guys.”