Klippers and Bombers pay a visit to Prince Albert

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Dean Gorchynski of the Flin Flon Bombers and Tylin Hilbig of the Kindersley Klippers exchanged pleasantries while their teammates watched on during the third period of play at the Art Hauser Centre on Sunday night.

When Kindersley Klippers head coach and general manager Ken Plaquin was playing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League as a member of the Humboldt Broncos in the late 1980’s, it was a few seasons after the Prince Albert Raiders had left the Junior A circuit to become one of the top teams in the Western Hockey League.

“My first season in Humboldt (1987-88) was Mike Modano’s first season with the Raiders and I remember just how exciting a time it was here at the rink and just how good the Raiders were when they moved into the WHL,” Plaquin said.

Prior to their leap into Major Junior hockey, the Raiders were the best team in the SJHL.

They made the league final in nine straight seasons, captured the championship in 1974 and won seven in a row from 1976 to 1982, in addition to winning the Centennial Cup in 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1982, the last of which was won at the then-named Communiplex.

The SJHL returned to one of its most historic venues on Sunday as the Klippers took on the Flin Flon Bombers in a pre-season game at the Art Hauser Centre.

“We were both looking for another exhibition game to play before the season started and we had played Kindersley a few years back in Warman,” Bombers head coach and general manager Mike Reagan said. “When I contacted the Klippers I asked them if they wanted to meet in Prince Albert if the rink was available, and it turned out to be a great fit for everyone, especially with the Mintos supplying their dressing room for us to use and the Raiders lending their support.

“It’s nice to come to Prince Albert as there’s a lot of players from the area that play in the SJHL and there’s also a lot of fans that follow the league that are from Prince Albert and the surrounding area. For them to be able to come here and catch a game is good for the league and we hope to make this an annual thing.”

In addition to helping to promote the SJHL, Sunday’s contest was also an important one for both sides as they try to figure out their roster for the 2021-22 campaign, which is slated to get underway on Friday, Sept. 24.

“It takes some time for everyone to get familiar with one another, especially since we didn’t really have a season of any kind last year due to the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Reagan said. “I think everyone in the league is in that situation right now as we’re all just in a feeling-out process to see what guys fit best in certain situations.”

“This is the longest off-season a lot of guys have ever had and our returning guys only had a couple of regular season games last year before the league shut down,” Plaquin added. “We still have another week to go here before the season gets underway, but everyone’s looking forward to it.”

The Klippers ended up earning bragging rights from Sunday’s encounter as they picked up a 5-3 win over the Bombers.

Logan Linklater and Ethan King led the way for Kindersley with a goal and an assist each, while Jaxon Georget, Mason Svarich and Carson Baylis also found the back of the net.

Nathan Gagne scored twice in the loss for the Bombers, who also got a goal from Kylynn Olafson.

As both teams continue to prepare for the upcoming campaign, a lot of eyes will be on the SJHL as the Estevan Bruins will host the Centennial Cup tournament next spring.

“They are the favourites right now but I think everyone’s going to be elevating their play when they go up against them,” Reagan said. “I know when Flin Flon hosted the tournament in 2001, we were upset in the semifinal by Nipawin, and then Weyburn lost in the opening round to Humboldt in 2005 when they hosted (the then-named RBC Cup) and won it.”

“It’s going to be a wide-open year,” Plaquin added. “No one’s going to know the other team’s players until they see them in person and I think there’s going to be a lot of younger kids that will get a chance to play.”