Bombers Poised To Change Playoff Trend

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Bombers poised to change playoff trend

Instead of the kiss of death, there has been a pot of gold awaiting any team playing the Flin Flin Flon Bombers in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs.

For four straight years, whomever has knocked the Bombers out of the playoffs – be it the Humboldt Broncos or La Ronge Ice Wolves, each twice in a row – has gone on to win the SJHL crown.

"So, I’m thinking that anybody would want to play Flin Flon because it’s a good omen if they beat us," Bombers coach Mike Reagan was saying Wednesday following a practice in preparation for the SJHL playoffs that begin Friday.

"I look at it like you’ve got to beat the best to be the best and this is a great opportunity for us."

Reagan expects a battle, an all-out war, in a best-of-five Survivor Series against the two-time defending SJHL champion Wolves, who have eliminated the Bombers from the playoffs two years in a row.

"The name Survivor Series suits the two teams, that’s for sure," quipped Reagan.

"Obviously, they’ve broken our hearts a few times."

That includes two years ago when the Bombers finished first overall in the Bauer Conference. They thought it was their year, only to get upset by the northern-rival Wolves. Last year, Reagan believed his team also had a good shot, but the Bombers lost two players down the stretch and that really seemed to hurt them.

Reagan says that it really looks like the Bombers have a better opportunity this year than last year to beat the Wolves. They match up better physically than they have in the past, he says.

"You’ve got to get that monkey off your back sometime and maybe we’re due," he said.

Once again, like so often in playoffs, it’ll come down to specialty teams and goaltending. That’s the key to any series, Reagan says.

A lot depends on rookie Devin Buffalo. While he has been fantastic for the Bombers this season, probably the place he struggled the most was in La Ronge, admits Reagan.

"Heading into the series, we’ve got to go with him," said Reagan. "He won the last game against them and it was a big game for us. We’re going to start with him but, in saying that, we’re comfortable with both of our goaltenders (the other being Andy Desautels)."

La Ronge counters with Alex Rajotte, who is up for SJHL goaltender of the year.

Statistically, Flin Flon has the edge on the power play (18.9 per cent compared to 16.2 for La Ronge), while the Wolves have a better penaltykill (82.7 per cent compared to 79 per cent).

"Our power play has probably been one of the better power plays since Christmas time, so we’re really hoping that, if they’re undisciplined, we can capitalize on that," said Reagan.

On defence, the Bombers have had offensive output from D-men David Roper, Tanner Clark, and Brandt Weldon, who has led the team in scoring over the last 20 games. Offensively, Flin Flon appears to have the edge. However, La Ronge has the likes of Matt Weisensel, Byron Sorenson and Brennan Ritchie.

Up front, the Wolves will need more production from Marc-Andre Carre, who had just 10 goals in 43 games. Skyler Hladun, Nathan Boyer and Aaron Enns have carried the load offensively. Jesse Mysiorek has added experienced up front for the Bombers, who will rely on the likes of Riley Storzuk, Dylan Balaski, Brett Penner, Dillan McCombie, Cameron Blair, Jay Young and Konrad Litke.

Both teams play in venues that are extremely tough on the opposition. The Ice Wolves were 19-6-3 at the Mel Hegland Uniplex Arena and 11-13-5 away. Flin Flon went 16-7-4 at the Whitney Forum and 11-14-5 on the road.

"It’s going to be such a tough series," predicted Reagan. "If you look at The Mel there in La Ronge, I would say it is probably the toughest place to win a road game in the league and I would say the Whitney Forum is the second-toughest place. Both teams are going to have to go into tough places and win games. I’m think the biggest thing for us is sneaking one out early."

Neither team likes the other too much. Here’s what Saskatoon-born Wolves forward Pavlo Zerebecky told MNBC Radio: "You can tell there’s a rivalry. I’ve hated them since our first game. Judging by that last game (which went into OT), it’s going to be a good series."

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