The NHL season is set to kick off tonight and at least one northern Manitoba player (and a pair of former Bombers) will be involved.
Three northern Manitoba players will be playing either in the NHL or AHL under an NHL contract this season. The player perhaps closest to NHL ice time is Brady Keeper, a defenceman with the Florida Panthers.
The former OCN Blizzard and Univ. of Maine standout has been named as part of the Panthers' so-called "taxi squad", a small group of players who will be ready to suit up with the team for games if players on the main roster are unable to play due to COVID-19 or other injuries. Keeper, originally from Cross Lake and a member of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, is one of four players assigned to the taxi squad and the only defenceman part of the group.
Keeper signed his first professional contract with the Panthers in 2019, playing one game with the club and later joining them in the Toronto bubble last year, playing another game in the playoffs. Keeper played most of last season with the Panthers' AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, racking up 18 points and 108 penalty minutes in 61 games.
Flin Flon's Ashton Sautner will start the season in the AHL with the Utica Comets, the AHL team for the Vancouver Canucks. The son of former Bomber assistant coach Blaine Sautner, Ashton is entering his sixth season with the organization. The defensive defenceman, a former Memorial Cup winner and two-time WHL champion, has played 23 NHL games with the Canucks, tallying three assists. Last year with Utica, Sautner put up 12 points in 51 games.
Another northern player aiming for an NHL shot is The Pas' Connor Dewar, who will join the Iowa Wild - AHL affiliate team of the Minnesota Wild - this season. Dewar, a third-round draft pick of the Wild in 2018, played his junior hockey in Washington state with the WHL's Everett Silvertips before turning pro last season.
Other players with connections to the north are also involved in the NHL's season kickoff. Josh Manson, an alternate captain with the Anaheim Ducks, will start the season with his club Jan. 14 against the Vegas Golden Knights. Originally from Prince Albert, Manson was formerly a prospect of the Flin Flon Bombers and played two games as an affiliate player before moving out west to play in the BCHL, eventually being signed by the Ducks and making his pro debut in 2014.
Another former Bomber, goalie Connor Ingram, was named to the taxi squad of the Nashville Predators ahead of their season start. Ingram, the only goalie on the team's squad, is in his fourth season of professional hockey. Ingram joined the Bombers in 2014 as a U18 affiliated player, playing two games and earning a loss, before going the major junior route with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers. Ingram shone in major junior, earning a spot on Canada's World Junior team and a third-round selection in the 2016 NHL draft.