~ Written by Jamie Neugebauer, image courtesy Kelly Kocur Jacobson
Take a bow Cal Schell.
The Flin Flon Bombers were an inaugural member of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, dating back at the junior level to 1948, so the context of Schell’s breaking of the club’s single-season shutout record Mar. 1, 2022 is massive.
“It is such a historic organization,” Schell said to Rob Hart, the voice of the Bombers on 102.9 CFAR radio in Flin Flon, “so to have my name up there is definitely very special and I would not want to break a record like this on any other team.”
To be exact, the 29-save 4-0 victory in Nipawin over the Hawks was Schell’s seventh of the campaign, breaking the club record set by Zac Robidoux in 2016-17.
Flin Flon got goals on the night from Jacob Vockler, two from captain Zack Smith, and one by Drew Kuzma, and that the record is a team triumph was not all lost on Schell.
“It definitely wasn’t an easy last couple of minutes,” Schell said.
“We were hemmed in our zone there a bit. It was in the back of my mind a bit, especially winding down, but I had to just tell myself to focus on the task at hand, finish out those last couple of minutes hard and yeah, it was great.
“(My teammates) are great,” he added.
“They really support me; my teammates would give me the shirt off their back and I’d do the same for them so it was awesome to be able to celebrate with them and to be a part of that was amazing.”
A native of Burlington, ONT, Schell spent time in Ontario Junior B with Hamilton, and the Surrey Eagles of the British Columbia Hockey League before joining the Bombers at the trade deadline of the 2019-2020 SJHL campaign.
After backing up veteran Jacob Delorme for much of that season and into the post-season, Schell was given his playoff chance in Game 4 of the club’s first-round matchup with the Humboldt Broncos on March 11, 2020.
The Broncos, facing elimination, pumped 45 shots at the Flin Flon net, but the Ontarian netminder was remarkable and was the No. 1 reason his club was able to complete the sweep with a 2-1 victory on the night.
As the Covid pandemic shut the playoffs down the very next day, the Bombers were thus the only team to advance to the second round of the post-season that year.
It was to be a game forever etched in Schell’s memory.
“That was, maybe next to (the shutout record game), the biggest game I’ve ever played,” he said.
“It was one of those games I’ll never forget. I can recall almost every shot in that game and I think it definitely gave me a lot of confidence moving forward, and helped me feel like coming into the next year I could be a top guy and compete in the league. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to showcase it the next year, but carrying on to this year I definitely feel it was an important game in my career.”
At the time of writing, Schell owns an impressive 24-8-2 record, with a 2.22 goals-against average and league-third-best .928 save percentage. Even though he is a 20-year-old, this year is the first time he has truly been a No. 1 goaltender, and he has clearly thrived in that pressure.
“Consistency is the one thing that a starting goalie needs to have,” he said, “and I think being able to dial that in this year has helped me and the team a lot. That is the biggest thing I have been focussing on mentally.
“Coming to Flin Flon was going to be a big tester for me and I think just, with all the tools we have here, it was up to me to put something together, something consistent, and it has worked out great this year. This is the best year of hockey I’ve ever had and I am very grateful to be at a club like this to have it happen.”