Bombers' "could be" season becomes "could have been" with COVID-19 playoff shutdown

Playoffs cancelled, Bombers lose shot at league title

The 2019-20 season will likely go down as one of unfinished business for the Flin Flon Bombers.

The squad posted the second-best record in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League regular season and swept the Humboldt Broncos in the first round of the playoffs. However, the talented team was halted in its pursuit of the Bombers’ first championship since 1993 by suspensions and cancellations due to COVID-19.

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Head coach Mike Reagan said, “Unfortunately, the thing I will remember about this team is, ‘What could they have accomplished?’”

On March 11, the same night the Bombers wrapped up their sweep of the Broncos, the NBA announced it was suspending its season. The NHL made a similar announcement the next day. By the end of the week, Hockey Canada and provincial hockey authorities had cancelled all sanctioned activities.

“We were all finding out through social media,” Reagan said.

“The league was doing its best to communicate with us what was going on, but things were happening so quick. We had a team meeting the day after it was announced by Hockey Canada and I told the boys exactly what was going on.”

Third-year Bombers forward Donavan Houle-Villeneuve summed up the thoughts of many Bombers when he said, “I think everyone is really disappointed … because of how our season is ending, considering we really had a shot at winning the league this year. Also, for the 20 (year olds), it’s harder since it was our last shot in junior.”

The Bombers posted a 36-15-7-0 regular season record, which placed them just behind the Battlefords North Stars (45-11-2-0). Flin Flon paced the SJHL with 265 goals in 58 games. That was 39 goals more than Battlefords, which ended the season second in that category. The Bombers boasted four of the SJHL’s top seven scorers in Cole Rafuse (second, 88 points), Alec Malo (third, 88), Houle-Villeneuve (sixth, 80) and Tristan Lemyre (seventh, 62). Lemyre was named the league’s rookie of the year, was selected to the SJHL all-rookie team and led all first-year players in scoring. Captain Mason Martin finished second in the league in defenceman scoring with 49 points. Dane Hirst, another 20-year-old Bomber defender, was seventh in that category with 40 points.

“I really enjoyed the group of guys we had this year,” Martin said.

“It was a very special group and we bonded really well together. A group of guys like this is hard to come by and I’m grateful I got to be a part of it.”

In the first round of the playoffs, the second-seeded Bombers beat the seventh-place Broncos 5-2 and 6-3 in Flin Flon to take a 2-0 series lead. The Flin Flon squad closed out the series with 6-1 and 2-1 road wins.

“I think that I’m most pleased with how the players were coming together and buying into playing playoff hockey,” Reagan said of the series. “For Game 4, we had three (defencemen) out and at one point we had four forwards out killing a penalty. The guys battled, blocked shots, did anything to win. I saw the team I was hoping to see.”

Rafuse led the playoffs with 11 points in four games. The 20-year-old forward and Yorkton’s Chantz Petruic each had five goals to top the league. Houle-Villeneuve was third in playoff scoring with eight points.

The Bombers have eight 20-year-olds aging out. Six of those players were among the team’s top nine scorers. The Bombers could return their fourth through sixth top scorers in Lemyre, Chase Haygarth (54 points) and Easton Haygarth (53 points). A number of players in their second seasons with the team, such as Billy Klymchuk, Reid Robertson, Ryder Richmond, Jaxon White and Matt Flodell increased their production. Flodell established himself as a leader, being named an assistant captain during the season. The Bombers could also return both of their goaltenders – Jacob Delorme (3.05 goals against average) and Cal Schell.

“Right now, it’s hard to think about next year, but I do believe we will be strong again and that we have a strong group of recruits coming in,” Reagan said.

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