The Flin Flon Bombers have been to the league final in each of the last two seasons and a key to that success was strong defensive play. In order for them to make it three years in a row they will once again need a solid effort from the back end and with players like Vaughn Bamford in the line-up they could be in a position to do just that.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound product of Tsawwassen, B.C., has appeared in 41 games for the Bombers in his rookie campaign and while his numbers – two goals and nine assists – don’t jump off the page his play has improved as the season winds down as evidenced by the four points he has picked up in the last six games.
Prior to joining the Bombers, the 18-year-old Bamford spent one season with the Richmond Sockeyes of the Pacific International Junior Hockey League where he had 15 points in 43 games and before that he was with the minor midget Greater Vancouver Canadians where he collected 11 points in 40 contests.
The road to the final might be a bit longer this time around for the Bombers, but for Bamford covering great distances is nothing new and if he continues with his improved play, there could be many more miles in the future.
An already explosive offence got that much more dynamic when the Battlefords North Stars made a deadline deal with the Lloydminster Bobcats to land 19-year-old winger Cole Johnson.
In 15 games since sending Jacob Tibbatts to Lloydminster for the former second-round pick of the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos, Johnson has been on fire scoring 12 times and setting up 12 others. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound product of Marwayne, Alta., has also helped the North Stars win 11 of those 15 games and bring them to within two points of the Nipawin Hawks for first place overall.
Johnson played in over 60 games with the Broncos and Saskatoon Blades during the last two seasons before finding his way to Lloydminster to start this year. In 27 games with the Bobcats, Johnson had nine goals and 12 assists, but he also picked up 109 minutes in penalties, a grittiness that has carried over to the Battlefords as he already has another 48 penalty minutes in his 15 games with the North Stars.
Johnson not only brings major junior experience with him to the Battlefords, but he has also competed in some elite events in the past namely the Alberta Cup, Western Canada Challenge Cup and under-17 development tournament.
The North Stars are looking to repeat as league champions and the addition of Johnson certainly gives them another weapon to try and accomplish that feat. His leadership and experience will be intangibles that could prove to be a difference maker as the season winds down and the gruelling road to the Canalta Cup begins.
Especially if the Kindersley Klippers can get themselves into a top six spot at the end of the regular season, one would think that goaltender Justen Close would have to at least garner some MVP consideration, albeit he's in a tough division that will feature the league's top two scorers and a great goaltending tandem in Battlefords. But Close leads all SJHL goalies in games and minutes played. He's fourth in save percentage (.921%), and on a club that's 9th in the league in goals-for, averaging 2.6 goals of support per game. The Klippers sit 8th overall heading into the Family Day long weekend, but are nipping at the heels of Weyburn and Notre Dame ahead of them.
After most of a full season with his hometown Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL), Chantz Petruic is settling in nicely to fulltime duty in the SJHL with Yorkton. The 1999-born forward played all of his minor hockey in Moose Jaw, including a pair of 'AAA' Midget seasons with the Generals, where he scored 21-goals as a 16-year-old in 2015-2016. The Terriers knew they'd have a special player if he ever fell in their lap, as that same season, he had a goal and two assists as an AP call-up for the Terriers. After 55-games with the Warriors last season, Petruic leads Yorkton as an 18-year-old, with 17-goals and 42-points in 40-games.
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA-ANCHORAGE
Eric Sinclair is one of the more decorated defensemen to come through the SJHL in recent years. The Kenora, ON product won back to back Canalta Cups with the Melfort Mustangs, played in three straight finals, and was named SJHL Defenseman Of The Year twice, once with Melfort and once in Flin Flon. He finished with 33-goals and 106-points during his three seasons. Even being a regular on a Division I roster as a true Freshman is an achievement, and Sinclair's put up six points (2g-4a) in 31-games with the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. Other SJHL'ers there include Tad Kozun (Nipawin), Drake Glover (Weyburn), Brandon Switzer (Flin Flon), and Kristian Stead (Nipawin).