By Dave Leaderhouse
Although the Flin Flon Bombers have been on the sidelines for more than a week it is safe to say that both the Bombers and Notre Dame Hounds are already battle tested as they prepare to open their quarter-final match-up in northern Manitoba on Friday.
The Bombers were in a fierce race for the Sherwood Division title with the Nipawin Hawks over the final six weeks of the regular season with Flin Flon finally nailing down the No. 2 seed with a 4-0 victory over the Hawks on the final night of the regular season.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, was in a fight of their own down the stretch trying to get into the top-six to avoid the Wild Card round, but in the end they came up just a bit short and ultimately needed four games to end the Melfort Mustangs’ two-year run as Canalta Cup champions in the best-of-five Wild Card series.
Now the battle resumes and it should be a good one as the Bombers and Hounds split the four-game season series with each team sweeping the other in their home rinks.
Notre Dame won the first meeting 4-0 on Oct. 14 with Flin Flon winning the next two at the Whitney Forum – 6-4 on Nov. 12 and 4-0 on Jan. 14 – before the Hounds captured the finale with a 3-2 decision in Wilcox on Feb. 4.
Both teams bring plenty of star power to this series as five of the top 10 scorers from the individual points race come from either the Bombers or the Hounds.
Notre Dame’s Ben Duperreault and Flin Flon’s Greyson Reitmeier, who shared the RBC player of the year award, were tied atop the individual point’s race with 79 points each after Reitmeier registered 12 points in his final four games to pull even.
Jason Lavallee and Rylee Zimmer of the Bombers also had strong seasons finishing with 67 and 64 points, respectively, while Notre Dame’s Adam Dawe also had 64 points. Dawe’s performance garnered him the SJHL rookie-of-the-year honours and also gained him spots on both Team West for the World Junior “A” Challenge and the CJHL’s Top Prospects Game.
Not surprisingly it was Duperreault and Dawe who led the way for Notre Dame in head-to-head contests against Flin Flon with Duperreault collecting six goals and two assists in the four meetings while Dawe chipped in with five helpers. Duperreault and Dawe have continued their strong play in the post-season as both, along with Chaz Smedsrud, had six points in the series against Melfort with Chance Longjohn also enjoying a strong start to the playoffs when he notched five points in the four games against the Mustangs.
Zimmer, along with Kristian St. Onge, each had four points for the Bombers in games against Notre Dame with Lavallee, Eric Sinclair and Nate Hooper adding three points apiece. Reitmeier was somewhat quiet against the Hounds registering just two assists, but he has been red-hot since that last meeting in early February and will undoubtedly be heard from in the series.
Flin Flon had the most explosive offence in the league scoring 245 times – 71 more than Notre Dame – and their team defence was third best having surrendered 150 goals in 58 games, again 17 better than the Hounds.
The Bombers have a solid goaltending tandem in Brenden Newton and Zac Robidoux while Benjamin Patt was brilliant in the Wild Card series against Melfort posting a 1.76 goals-against average and a 92.9 save percentage. Patt, who returned to the Hounds in early January after Jordan Greenfield-Flemon left the club to accept a scholarship at the University of Alaska, will be backed up by 18-year-old Riley Higdon, who got into one game against the Bombers and stopped 30 of 32 shots he faced in just over 30 minutes of action.
Special teams were pretty much even in the season series with Flin Flon going 4/21 with the man advantage while Notre Dame was 2/14, but with as much firepower as each team brings taking penalties will have to be at a minimum so as to not make that the deciding factor.
The first two games of the series will be played in Flin Flon on Friday and Saturday before reverting back to Notre Dame for contests on Tuesday and Wednesday. If the series goes beyond the minimum then it will return to Flin Flon next Friday with subsequent games being in Notre Dame on Mar. 26 and back in Flin Flon on Mar. 28.
The Bombers, who reached the league final a year ago when they entered the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, will have to be wary of the Hounds, who despite being seeded seventh, were tied with the Yorkton Terriers for that No. 6 position only to fall back one spot based on head-to-head meetings.