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SJHL Quarter-Final Playoff Preview: Bombers face North Stars

After finishing with the league’s 5th best record, the Flin Flon Bombers enter the SJHL Playoffs against the 4th seeded Battlefords North Stars, who won 7 of their last 10 games to leap frog the Bombers in the SJHL standings. The Bombers struggled during the final stretch of the regular season, winning just 3 of their last 12 games.

Flin Flon is led by goaltender Cal Schell who is a potential league MVP candidate. The Burlington, Ontario, product finished the season with the 2nd most wins among all SJHL goaltenders with 25 and top 5 in GAA (2.39) and SV% (.923). Schell led all SJHL goaltenders in shutouts with 7, which broke a team record for most shutouts in a single season.

A veteran group of defencemen have been an important part of the Bombers success. Rochester Inst. of Tech (RIT) commit, Xavier Lapointe led all SJHL defencemen in scoring with 50 points (19g, 31a) in 58 games. Meanwhile, Rylan Thiessen, Reece Richmond and Cole Vardy all finished in the top 17 in SJHL defencemen scoring.

Up front the Bombers are led by Zak Smith, Jaxon Martens, Drew Kuzma and Jaeden Mercier. Smith led all Bomber forwards in scoring with 20 goals (team high) and 28 assists in 50 games. The Bombers captain will be relied on in all situations. Flin Flon had just 1 player in the SJHL’s top 20 in scoring (Xavier Lapointe).

Flin Flon enters the playoffs with the 2nd hottest power play in the SJHL (22.7%) and just the 8th best penalty kill (79.6%).

Battlefords relied on 3 different goaltenders this season against Flin Flon. Michael Harroch, who finished the season with the 3rd best SV% (.925) among all SJHL goaltenders, who played a minimum of 1140 minutes of action. Harroch has been sidelined with an injury since February 17th and his status for game 1 is unknown at this time. Lowen Kenyon, one of the smallest goaltenders in the SJHL this season at 5’9, had an impressive rookie campaign with the North Stars posted a 1.93 GAA & .937 SV%. Kenyon posted a .925 SV% and went 1-1 against the Bombers this season. Austin Schwab returned to Battlefords after beginning the season in the NAHL and appeared in 11 games with the North Stars. Schwab was in net for the North Stars win over the Bombers on March 11th and stopped 48 of 49 shots.

Tynan Ewart and Sam Witt will be relied on heavily for the North Stars on the blueline. Ewart finished 8th among all SJHL defencemen in scoring with 32 points (6g, 26a) and was named to one of the SJHL/MJHL Showcase rosters.

Battlefords had just 2 players in the SJHL’s top 20 in scoring (Dylan Esau and Jake Southgate). Esau went on a tear during the final stretch of the season putting up 20 points (11g, 9a) in just 12 games.

Battlefords power play was 5th among all SJHL clubs (21.4%) and the teams penalty kill ranked 9th (79.4%).

The head-to-head season series between the Bombers and North Stars was 2-2 with the home team winning all of the games. The Bombers got the upper-hand early winning the first 2 games by scores of 4-0 and 6-3. The North Stars responded in the next 2 meetings winning 4-2 and 4-1.

The series gets underway at the Access Communications Centre in North Battleford on Friday, March 18th and continue with Game 2 on Saturday, March 19th. The series will then shift back to Flin Flon for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday, March 22nd and Wednesday, March 23rd. Reminder: Proof of vaccination is no longer required. For the first round the Bombers will not be increasing ticket sales.

(Photo Credit – Kelly Jacobson)