It’s not often two players from Yellowknife end up on the same junior team, but that’s the case in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL).
One is back for his second season. The other is hoping this will be a chance for him to show what he can do.
Ethan Anstey and Carter McLeod are lining up this season with the Flin Flon Bombers and it’s a reunion of sorts — both were teammates once before on Team NT’s 2019 Canada Winter Games men’s hockey squad. But it will be the first time they’ve played together on the same junior team and both were excited to get going.
The Bombers opened up the new SJHL season at home on Sept. 16 against the Melfort Mustangs and came out on top, 2-0. Anstey was in the line-up for opening night and hit the scoresheet, registering an assist on the game’s opening goal.
He said the team came out with confidence, but Melfort didn’t make life easy for them at all.
“It was close until the third period and we were able to seal it with an empty-netter,” said Anstey. “It’s looking like Melfort is going to be a real good team this year and we need to be able to beat those teams if we’re going to repeat last season.”
This will be Anstey’s first full campaign with the Bombers; he joined the team midway through last season after being dealt by the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the B.C. Hockey League in January. It was a move that saw him end up getting to the Canalta Cup, the SJHL championship, before being beaten by the Estevan Bruins.
But that wasn’t the end of the line for the Bombers. Because the Bruins were the host team for the Centennial Cup, the Canadian Jr. A men’s hockey championship, they were already guaranteed a spot. That meant the Bombers would play in the tournament as well by virtue of getting to the final. They would advance to the playoffs, but would lose in the quarter-final to the Pickering Panthers of Ontario in overtime.
Anstey, who lines up at centre, said there’s no reason why the Bombers can’t reach that height again this season.
“More than half of our guys from last season are back and we added some new faces in the off-season,” he said. “We just need to learn how to win in the regular season because we can’t just turn on the switch in the playoffs and expect to be successful.”
Expectation of success
McLeod, a right-winger, didn’t play in the season-opener, but he did dress the following night when the Bombers hit the road to take on the Nipawin Hawks. The Bombers would lose, 5-2.
McLeod signed with the Bombers during the off-season and he said it all played out as well as it could.
“I started talking with them during the tail end of last season,” he said. “I talked with one of their scouts at the Mac’s Tournament (in Calgary) and I went down to their camp. I signed the letter of intent and here we are.”
McLeod was drafted by the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League in 2019, but wasn’t able to crack the main roster before being released in 2021. He went back to play at the Edge School, where he had played since 2018, before making the jump to the Bombers.
He said being in the Manitoba town is a second chance for him to make a first impression.
“I worked a lot on what was holding me back and I think I’m a better player now,” he said. “I made the adjustments and I couldn’t wait to get back out on the ice. It was a long summer and I’m excited to get back out there and show everyone what I can do.”
McLeod knows he’s walking into a situation where success is expected, especially after the run the Bombers went on last season.
“Everyone here is real hungry, but I think I fit in well here,” he said. “No one likes to lose and there’s that expectation that we’re going to do well.”
At 18, McLeod still has three years of eligibility left in junior hockey. His goal now with the rest of the time he has left is to go the school route and play his way into an educational opportunity.
“The staff here in Flin Flon have some good connections with that and I’m just hoping to attract some attention,” he said. “I want to keep playing hockey in college after I’m done junior and I have a few years to make that happen.”
Anstey’s role on the team this year is one of a veteran. At age 21, he’s in his final year of junior eligibility and he’s mindful of making sure the younger players know their way.
“All of the veterans are stepping up,” he said. “I learned that from last year being the new guy and there are definitely some roles that need to be filled. It’s all about leading by example and it’s real cool that Carter’s here. I can help him out if he’s nervous or if he has questions or just needs to talk. We’ve known each other a long time and if I can help him, I’ll be there.”