For the first time since 1998-99, the Estevan Bruins are SJHL champions, and for the second time in four years, Eric Pearce and Boston Bilous were able to lift a championship trophy above their heads.
Both players were part of the 2018-19 WHL championship winning Prince Albert Raiders, and were able to relive a game seven win in the final all over again. The Bruins beat the Flin Flon Bombers 2-0 in game seven of the SJHL final to win the Canalta Cup.
“It’s very exciting, and it’s been a long time since this city has won a trophy,” Bilous said. “To do it in game seven against a team like Flin Flon was pretty special. It’s something we will remember for the rest of our lives. It was a great series, and we couldn’t be happier for this city.”
It’s been a memorable run for Bilous over these past four years, as hockey has taken him all across the province. Midway through the 2019-20 WHL season, the 2001 born netminder was traded from the Raiders to the Moose Jaw Warriors. He found a home in Moose Jaw for the remainder of his WHL tenure, starting 13 games in the Regina hub centre during the COVID shortened 2020-21 campaign. Bilous posted a 3.81 GAA with a .865 SV% in those starts.
This season his game saw a major improvement in Estevan. He started a career high 40 games, boasting an incredible 2.11 GAA and a .923 SV%. He says while the path to get to the Canalta Cup may not have been the most conventional, he is still thrilled to be a part of it.
“I was fortunate enough to win in Prince Albert and be a part of that,” he said. “That’s another memory that’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
The route may have been a little different these last few years, but to win one in PA, and go through COVID with everyone, it was a bit of a weird time. You go from not playing as much hockey, and then to come back for the first full season and win a cup with Estevan, it’s pretty special.”
Eric Pearce saw his own game take a similar change for the good when he joined the Bruins. After a frustrating start to the 2021-22 season in the WHL, where he was traded from the Raiders to the Brandon Wheat Kings, and then released by the Wheaties, Pearce says it didn’t take him long to get settled in with his new team in Estevan.
“I don’t think it took me too long to get comfortable,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a different league, and it obviously takes some time just to adjust to that change. Just getting in with the team, I knew a couple of the guys, obviously one of them was Boston from when we were in PA. I moved in with him and we became roommates, which made the transition a lot easier. It was just a really enjoyable year.”
Pearce reminisced on the 2019 WHL championship in Prince Albert with the Raiders. To do it all over again with Bilous is something that he doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s something that we have both talked about these last couple of days,” Pearce said. “Just the memories that we are going to have forever, and to be able to enjoy that with each other is pretty special.”
It became clear right from his first game with the Bruins that Pearce would be an offensive weapon. After registering four assists in nine games in the WHL this season, Pearce exploded in the SJHL, scoring 48 points (20G-28A) in 40 games. He finished fifth in team scoring, and shattered his career high in points, as his previous best was 16 points in the 2020-21 season with Prince Albert.
“I got to step into a bigger role in Estevan, and show that side of my game where maybe I haven’t been able to show these last couple of years in the WHL,” he explained. “But I think I learned a lot from playing in the WHL too, playing more of a defensive role. I think I brought that here, and completed the whole two-way game. I thought it turned out pretty good.
“Having those four or five years of experience in the WHL helped me to perfect my game and tweak it here or there. I think it came full circle in the SJHL.”
It’s the same sort of story for Bilous as well, who was finally able to step into his own spotlight with the Bruins this season. After being in the large shadow of Ian Scott in the 2018-29 season, the goaltender was able to confidently step into the role as Estevan’s number one guy.
“The role was definitely different from when I played in PA,” Bilous said. “I sat behind Ian Scott and tried to learn as much as I could. I was so grateful for that opportunity. I knew the workload was going to be a lot more this year, and I really just wanted to give my team a chance every night. I’ve said this a lot, but we have a great team. We have great forwards, great defencemen, and I just wanted to stop as many pucks as I can for them.
“Every year I think you re-evaluate and try to grow. When you go through tough situations, try to learn from those and grow from them. I think that’s something I’ve always been conscious of, is just trying to grow from opportunities.”
When asked which championship was nicer to win, Bilous laughed as he gave his answer.
“I’ve been asked this a lot, but it’s a tie. They’re 1A, 1B, they’re both amazing.”
Pearce received the same question, but says winning the Canalta Cup has a bit of a nicer feeling for him at the moment.
“I’d probably say the SJHL feels a little nicer right now,” he said. “The WHL championship at the time felt really good, but looking back on it in a couple of years, I don’t know if I will be able to decide.”