Newcomer Cole Rafuse was certainly impressed with the atmosphere during his first home game at the Whitney Forum.
Over 1,100 fans packed the historic building to cheer on the Flin Flon Bombers to a season opening victory Sept. 13 over La Ronge. Rafuse, a 20-year-old who hails from Kentville, N.S, had three assists that night.
“It was a great crowd. The fans are unbelievable and get into the game. It doesn’t take much to get pumped up to play at home with them cheering. It made it a great atmosphere,” he said.
The Bombers have been trying to use home ice to full advantage early this season. After sweeping their opening weekend home-and-home season against La Ronge, the Bombers split two games at home with the Humboldt Broncos. They won Sept. 20 5-3, but fell 9-3 Sept. 21. On Sunday, head coach Mike Reagan said he was “pretty disappointed with our effort last night. Hopefully, it was a one off.”
He thinks it could be a good early learning lesson.
“In the regular season, you go through a lot of tests,” Reagan said. “In the first three games, we won two third periods that we were tied, which is something we want to be the best at in the league. It got us four big points. (On Saturday,) we failed the test of being ready to beat the same team on back-to-back nights at home. It’s something that we struggled with last year and is a difficult task for most teams in the league. It’s very difficult to beat the same team back to back,” he stated.
“Mentally, the team that loses the first game comes to the rink more focused for game two, while the winning team often comes to lose.”
After the weekend, the Bombers entered this week’s SJHL Showcase in Warman with a 3-1-0-0 record. Flin Flon was set to play Weyburn on Monday and Battlefords on Tuesday, both after The Reminder’s deadline.
The team is the home squad for seven of their first nine games and will play six of those in the Whitney. The other contest is a neutral site game in Warman.
“A loud crowd at the Whitney Forum really energizes the boys,” said Caleb Franklin, a 20-year-old in his second season with the team. “It gives us so much strength and confidence knowing how much support we have behind us.”
Last season, the Bombers went 19-8-1-1 at home and were 15-12-0-2 as the road team. Over the past four seasons, the team has averaged 19 home victories and 13.75 on the road.
The Whitney Forum, which opened in 1960, serves as a de facto Bombers museum. Banners displaying the team’s long history of success in various leagues hang from the rafters. There is a team hall of fame. Over the years, improvements have been made, such as upgraded rink boards, taller glass and protective netting, but the character of the building has remained.
“Playing in the Whitney forum is an unbelievable honour,” said 19-year-old Bombers defenceman Ryder Richmond.
“Knowing all the great players that have played on that ice, and all the great things that they’ve accomplished, just makes you grateful for the chance to play here.”
While the Whitney Forum is historic, the people of the community are crucial to its game day atmosphere – and why players enjoy playing for the Bombers. Nineteen-year-old forward Easton Haygarth came to Flin Flon with his twin brother, Chase, from their home province of Alberta this season. Haygarth, who billets with Leanna Campbell and her children Hannah and Caleb, said, “Since I’ve been here all the guys have been really welcoming. My billets have been amazing, and it feels like I’m at home.”
“The fans are pretty crazy, which makes it fun to play every night. We got a team I feel like can win the league this year, so that makes it easy to go to the rink everyday.”