The last time both the Estevan Bruins and Flin Flon Bombers played in the playoffs, it was Game 7 of the 2022 SJHL Championship Final at Affinity Place with the Bruins winning 2-0 to claim their first league title since 1999.
Now less than 11 months later, with 14 combined players who were on the ice in that Game 7, the two teams are squaring off again in the 2023 SJHL Quarterfinal. Only this time, Flin Flon would have home ice advantage with Games 1 & 2 being played at the Whitney Forum.
GAME 1: Slow Start Leads To 4-1 Loss
The Bruins went into Flin Flon looking to earn their first win at the Whitney Forum since November 20th, 2021 as they have lost five consecutive games at “The Zoo” including all three in last year’s SJHL championship series. However, after weathering the storm in the first five minutes of the game, the Bombers would break through to take a commanding lead early.
At the 7:38 mark, Flin Flon’s Dawson Karol would bank a shot in off of Aleksa Babic’s skate to put the Bombers ahead 1-0. Just 91 seconds later at 9:09, Cory King’s point shot would sneak through a maze of players past a screened Cam Hrdlicka to make it 2-0 Flin Flon. Then a few minutes later at 13:01, Alexi Sylvestre would put home a rebound to make it 3-0 Bombers after the 1st period. Shots were 17-7 Flin Flon in the opening frame.
Though Flin Flon continued to pepper Hrdlicka with shots in the 2nd period, it seemed that the Bruins found their footing and began establishing their game as the period went along. The Bruins would get on the board in the middle frame, as the team’s leading scorer in the regular season Kade Runke finished off a pretty pass from Mitch Kohner to make it 3-1 at the 7:05 mark. The chippy play began to pick up near the end of the period with scrums around the net and the first penalties of the game being called. Shots after two periods were 37-16 Flin Flon.
After starting the period with a successful penalty kill, the Bruins looked to try and close the two-goal gap midway through the 3rd period. They started earning better scoring opportunities, but were unable to find the back of the net. Then with Flin Flon on only their second powerplay of the game, the Bombers made the Bruins pay as Ethan Mercer deflected a shot-pass from the point to put the Bombers ahead 4-1 at the 12:25 mark. The Bruins attempted to come back by pulling the goalie for an extra attacker with more than 5 minutes remaining, but were still unable to score and Flin Flon would hold onto the 4-1 win in Game 1.
Cam Hrdlicka (45/49) settled in after allowing three goals in the 1st period, and was almost unbeatable the rest of the night stopping 37 of the final 38 shots he faced the rest of the game. Harmon Laser-Hume (29/30) was on his game for Flin Flon and earned the victory.
Special Teams play is expected to be a big factor in this series, as Flin Flon finished 2nd in PP% and 4th in PK% during the season while Estevan finished 8th in PP% and 7th in PK%. Despite the majority of Friday’s Game 1 being played at even strength, Estevan did end up going (0/2) on the powerplay while Flin Flon went (1/2) on the man advantage with the late PPG in the 3rd period.
GAME 2: Bruins Lose 5-2
The Estevan Bruins came out with a much stronger effort to start the game on Saturday, playing a much more cohesive brand of hockey.
After the Bruins had a few early chances stopped, Flin Flon would open the scoring with Jaeden Mercier putting home the loose puck at 7:05 to make it 1-0.
Then a scary moment as Bruins’ forward Mitch Kohner was elbowed in the head while skating the puck up through the neutral zone. Kohner was slow to get up and didn’t return for the final 9:00 of the period, while Flin Flon’s Rylan Pearce was given a 5-minute major for checking to the head and a game misconduct.
The Bruins would tie the game on the ensuing powerplay. At 15:55, Aleksa Babic would fire a shot through a screen for his 1st goal of the playoffs to make it 1-1 after the opening frame. Kade Runke and Owen Barrow assisted, as shots were 17-6 for Flin Flon after one period.
The 2nd period would be played extremely tight, with both teams having chances to take the lead but both goalies stood tall. That is until the final two minutes as Flin Flon went on the powerplay and Alexi Sylvestre scored at 17:59 to give the Bombers a 2-1 lead heading into the 3rd period. Shots were 30-17 after two periods, and Mitch Kohner did return to the game for Estevan however he only played a few shifts the rest of the game.
The wheels came off for the Bruins in the final frame, as their attention-to-detail starting to wander and the Bombers took full advantage. Jacob Vockler scored at the 3:34 mark to make it 3-1, then just 36 seconds later at 4:10 Brock Mueller increased the lead to 4-1. The Bombers were awarded a powerplay just minutes later and Ethan Mercier would score at the 9:00 mark to put the game out of reach at 5-1. Jag Phangura would score a late goal at 15:05, assisted by Brady Wilson, to round out the scoring in a 5-2 defeat.
Cam Hrdlicka (33/38) was tagged with the loss playing the first 50:58 of the game, with Jackson Miller (3/3) coming in to finish it off. Harmon Laser-Hume (27/29) earned the win for Flin Flon.
Special teams were a factor in the game as the Bruins went (1/2) and Flin Flon going (2/4) on the powerplay. There were a total of 18 infractions (9 each) in the game, but most of them were offsetting minor penalties.
The Bruins were without defenceman Robbie Stewart (injury) and forwards Sam McPeak & Tim Tychonick (illness) for both games. The status of all three players, as well as Mitch Kohner who was injured in Game 2, is uncertain heading into Game 3.
The series now shifts to Estevan for Games 3 & 4 at Affinity Place on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7pm. In last year’s SJHL Final between the Bruins and Bombers, the home team won every game and that’s a trend this year’s Bruins’ team is hoping continues until a potential Game 5.