ESTEVAN - The Estevan Bruins and the Flin Flon Bombers played four close, hard-fought games in the regular season, and fans should look forward to more of the same in the SJHL final.
The two clubs will meet in the best-of-seven showdown that starts Friday night in Estevan. Game 2 will be the following night, also in Estevan. Both games are at 7 p.m.
Games 3 and 4 will be April 26 and 27, respectively, in Flin Flon. Game 5, if necessary, is set for April 30 in Estevan, Game 6 would be May 3 in Flin Flon and Game 7 would be May 6 in Estevan.
The Bruins, who had the top record in the regular season at 43-10-2-3, good for 91 points, and reached the final by sweeping the Yorkton Terriers in four straight in the best-of-seven semifinal series. They have won a season-high eight straight games, dating back to their quarter-final victory over the Notre Dame Hounds.
The Bombers, meanwhile, were fifth in the regular season (34-21-2-1, 71 points) and defeated the second-ranked Humboldt Broncos in five games in their semifinal showdown. They previously dispatched of the Battlefords North Stars in the quarter-finals.
Estevan won three of the four games with Flin Flon during the 2021-22 regular season, defeating the Bombers 3-1 on Oct. 20 in Estevan, 3-2 on Nov. 20 in Flin Flon and 3-2 on Feb. 4 in Estevan. The Bombers lone victory was a 3-2 overtime decision on Nov. 19 in Flin Flon.
Since the Centennial Cup national junior A hockey championship, sponsored by Tim Hortons, will be in Estevan this year, and the Bruins have already qualified as the host team, the Bombers will also be in the tournament as the SJHL rep.
Estevan is seeking their first league title since 1999, which was also their last appearance at the national event. Flin Flon is looking for their first championship since 1993, and last appeared at nationals as the host team in 2001.
Bruins head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic said all the teams left in the playoffs in the semifinals were excellent, so he wasn’t surprised that the Bombers defeated the Broncos.
“Flin Flon’s a good team. They’re big. They’re really good defensively and their goaltender (Cal Schell) is playing well,” said Tatarnic.
He isn’t worried about the automatic Centennial Cup spot impacting the intensity of the series.
“If you get to this part of the season, or this stage, your goal is to win a league championship. Flin Flon is trying to achieve that. We’re trying to achieve that. I don’t expect any lack of intensity out there,” said Tatarnic.
The Bruins will be making their first appearance in the final since losing in seven games to the Nipawin Hawks in 2018. Bruins’ forward and Alameda product Cody Davis, whose older brother Jayden was on that 2018 team, was at several games in the final.
He expects it will take a lot of hard work to beat the Bombers, and he anticipates the games will be similar to what they experienced in the regular season.
“There are going to be hard games, there’s going to be a lot of hard-hitting and physical play and intensity,” said Cody Davis.
The Bombers have a great defence, but he believes the Bruins can match up well against that group.
Davis is excited to be playing in the final with what is essentially his hometown team.
“I’ve never really come this close to winning the league before, and it’s great for the community of Estevan,” said Davis.
Attending those games in the 2018 playoff run gives him an idea of what to expect, but he recognizes it will be very different as a player than as a spectator.
Tatarnic hopes the fans will come out and pack the arena for the final.
“Our goal is to try to win a league championship. It’s been a long time,” said Tatarnic. “All the support we can get will help us that much more in our goal.”
The Bruins will have a 15-day break between Game 4 against Yorkton and Game 1 against Flin Flon – the fourth time this season they have had at least 13 days between games. Tatarnic said this latest break was a chance to rest, recover from a stomach flu that ran through the team, and start practising and preparing for the series.
Nobody is expected to be out of the lineup for Game 1 due to injury.