(Photo courtesy: Flin Flon Bombers – Twitter)
Flin Flon Bombers’ Head Coach & GM Mike Reagan took time to discuss the early ending of the SJHL/CJHL season. The Bombers were the only SJHL team having already advanced to the league’s final four when the season was suspended early.
Well Mike, you guys rolled through round one, a four game sweep over the Humboldt Broncos, were sitting at home with over a week off waiting for your Semi-Final opponent, and you didn’t play another game. As much as the COVID-19 situation is bigger than just hockey, how hard was it seeing this all happen in a year where you were such a threat to contend, and maybe bring home that first Canalta Cup since 1993?
It was real tough to see this all unfold, so many different emotions. We almost didn’t believe this was happening. There are very few times where as a coach you see your entire team get to a point where you have a 100% buy in. I felt we got there throughout the series vs Humboldt. Every game we saw more commitment to doing the little things right and to me Game 4 capped it off. That’s what had me so excited and confident about this group of guys.
You’ve had a lot of great teams in the last decade or so, hung some division banners, lost in a couple league finals. How did this team stack up against some of your clubs in recent history, safe to assume this group was right up there, competing in a division where all four teams finished well over .500?
We have had teams in the past that were overall more skilled, more physical, but not as well rounded in my opinion. I really liked our depth this year. We felt comfortable with every one of our players being in the lineup. It’s challenging to manage teams where guys that aren’t in the lineup on some nights deserve to be in. That’s where we had a tremendous buy in. It took some time but guys eventually understood that every guy has to be willing to sacrifice something in order for us to be in a position to be successful. Let’s just say that this year’s team was one of the top three teams we’ve have had over my time here.
Before we started you mentioned it’s not every year you end up landing impact 20-year-olds like Alec Malo and Cole Rafuse in the same season – they finished tied for 2nd in the league in scoring (88 points). Can you talk about how they came to be Bombers, and in particular how you’ve found such success bringing in impact guys from Quebec specifically but across eastern Canada?
I tried to recruit Malo when I got Donavan (Houle-Villeneuve), but he decided to go to the Q that season. This year Alec wanted to come west to challenge himself to get better overall as a player. Donny and Alec are really good friends so he asked me if I’d be interested in getting Alec. I don’t know if I have had a guy with the vision that Malo has. His hockey IQ is real high and he sees things that very few players at our level do.
Rafuse we were able to get through my connections out east and because of Tyler Higgins who played for us the previous year. Your players are often your best recruiters, Higgy sold Rafuse on Flin Flon and his billets. For us to get a former Memorial Cup champ was huge. Getting a guy like him who has played in the biggest game in junior hockey was so valuable to the confidence in our room. I think we were starting to see the true impact Cole was going to make for us. In the series he had 11-points in four games and yet I felt the best was still to come.
The success of getting players from Quebec comes from the relationships I built while I played out there. Over the time I’ve gone back and met some great people that have helped me out. We have one guy in particular that has been a huge asset for us. He believes in our program. We have been able to get most of our Quebec players scholarships so they want to come here.
Another guy from Quebec, you mentioned Houle-Villeneuve. He wasn’t a one-year guy, he had three excellent seasons and really developed year over year to the point he’ll be playing NCAA Division I hockey in the fall. Can you describe the development you saw in him?
Donavan Houle Villeneuve is a coaches dream. Big, strong, skilled, physical, fast, great shot. The tools he’s working with are incredible. It took him sometime to figure out how to use those tools and get the results. His rookie season he tried to go through the entire team one on one. We had to get him to understand that this wasn’t pond hockey. He made the adjustments through hard work and trusting us. Donavan is such a great guy and cares about his teammates. Most high end guys aren’t coachable or think they know everything. Donavan is the exact opposite. He wants to get better and doesn’t put himself ahead of anyone on the team. He will be missed in Flin Flon. He’s one of the most exciting players we have ever had wear a Bomber jersey.