An epic 7-game series between the Estevan Bruins and Flin Flon Bombers came down to the final shot in overtime of Game 7. And unfortunately for standout goaltender Cam Hrdlicka and the Bruins, it was an unlucky bounce at the worst time that ended the game, the series, and the season.
At 1:35 of overtime, Cole Duppereault’s dump-in attempt bounced off a glass stanchion and past Hrdlicka who was going behind his net to stop the puck, bouncing past the goalie’s pad and into the open net to end the game with a 2-1 overtime loss for the Bruins.
It was truly a series of momentum swings as the Bombers took control of the SJHL Quarterfinal early winning Games 1 & 2 convincingly at the Whitney Forum, only to see the Bruins rattle off three straight victories to take the series lead, and finally ending with Flin Flon rallying to win the final two games and claiming the Best-of-7 series by a (4-3) margin. It was the only Quarterfinal series in the SJHL to go all 7 games.
The Bruins came into Game 7 with much more confidence than any of their previous visits to the Whitney Forum. That was due to their Game 5 overtime victory just four nights earlier, a game that saw Cam Hrdlicka make 66 saves in the victory and helped lead to Hrdlicka being named SJHL ‘MVP’ of the Week.
Both the Bruins and Bombers played a tentative opening period, with both teams cautious to make a mistake in Game 7 with everything on the line. Each team earned a few quality scoring chances, but both Hrdlicka and Flin Flon’s Harmon Laser-Hume continued their stellar play in net in a scoreless 1st period.
The Bruins would open the scoring in Game 7 midway through the 2nd period on a 2-on-1 rush. Tyler Guy cleared the puck around the boards in his own end with Cody Davis getting a piece of it to send Kade Runke in with the puck. With Owen Barrow as a passing decoy, Runke instead held onto the puck a snapped a perfect shot bar-down past Laser-Hume to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at the 10:58 mark.
However just minutes later at 12:28 while on the powerplay, Flin Flon’s Ethan Mercer beat Hrdlicka with a nice shot off the post and past Hrdlicka to tie the game at 1-1 after 40 minutes.
The 3rd period provided plenty of drama as each team looked for the go-ahead goal, as it seemed like the game had already entered “next goal wins” territory. Each team came close to taking the lead, with Estevan having the best opportunity with only 8:00 remaining as Evan Forrest was stopped by Laser-Hume on a clear cut breakaway to keep it 1-1. Eventually the buzzer would sound to end regulation, meaning the deciding Game 7 would end in sudden-death overtime.
In the first minute of the extra frame, Bruins defenceman Kaelan Whittingham was penalized for hooking Flin Flon’s Jeremi Tremblay. The Bombers dangerous powerplay would get an early chance to end the game, and they would end up executing, however in a very unlucky manner for the Estevan Bruins.
The Bruins cleared the puck on the penalty kill with Cody Davis racing to try and get to the loose puck first for a shorthanded breakaway. But Laser-Hume quickly skated out of his net to play the puck and passed it to Duppereault at the red line. Duppereault attempted to dump the puck into the zone around the boards, and Hrdlicka began to skate out of his net anticipating to stop the puck behind the goal line. That’s when a wild bounce off a stanchion near the blue line completely changed the direction of the puck, as it bounced off the glass, off the ice, over Hrdlicka’s outstretched pad in desperation, and into the open net for the series-clinching overtime winner.
Flin Flon’s players raced off the bench to celebrate along with well-over 1,500 roaring fans packed inside the Whitney Forum. The Bruins players immediately skated off the bench directly to console Hrdlicka, who laid motionless in shock on the ice for an extended time after the puck went in. As the celebration ended, each team lined up to shake hands at center ice and congratulate each other on a hard-fought 7-game series. As they left the ice for the final time, the Bruins players hugged and consoled each other as their playoff run and hopes of defending the 2022 SJHL Championship came to an abrupt end.
Cam Hrdlicka (39/41) put together a playoff round for the SJHL history books. Hrdlicka finished the series with a ridiculous .945 SV%, tops among all SJHL goaltenders. He stopped 293 of 310 shots in the series, becoming one of the only SJHL goalies ever to face 300+ shots in a playoff series. Hrdlicka also had a 2.30 G.A.A. and 1 shutout in 443 minutes played in the series. Hrdlicka was the Bruins’ regular season MVP, a finalist for the SJHL’s top goaltender, and will be named as the Bruins’ Playoff MVP.
Harmon Laser-Hume (25/26) earned the win for Flin Flon, adding an assist on the overtime winner. In the series, Laser-Hume finished with a .941 SV% and a 1.71 G.A.A.
The Bruins went (0/2) on the powerplay in Game 7, and finished the series going (4/24) on the powerplay adding 2 shorthanded goals. The Bombers went (2/4) on the powerplay in Game 7, and finished the series going (6/24) on the powerplay.
The SJHL playoffs will continue on without the Bruins. All 4 “favoured” teams won their opening round series, meaning the semi-final will feature Battlefords (1) taking on Melfort (4) and Humboldt (2) battling Flin Flon (3).
With the season now complete, the Estevan Bruins will bid farewell to their 7 “graduating” players who have finished their final season of junior hockey:
Aleksa Babic, Robbie Stewart, Owen Miley
Cody Davis, Dan O’Neill, Mitch Kohner, Kade Runke