On the heels of Jack Works winning the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship last weekend, there is another Yellowknife hockey player who has a chance of copping a national crown of his own.
The only question is whether he’ll get to do it as a league champion or by backing in.
Ethan Anstey and his Flin Flon Bombers are off to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s (SJHL) Canalta Cup final after they defeated the Humboldt Broncos in Game 5 of their semifinal series on Tuesday night on the road in Humboldt. A 1-0 shutout gave the Bombers a 4-1 series triumph and a spot in the championship series versus the Estevan Bruins. The final will get underway on April 22 in Estevan.
“We managed to squeak through,” said Anstey on Wednesday. “They’re a real good team — lots of speed and plenty of skill but look at the scores.”
Yes, look at the scores.
The 1-0 win on Tuesday was the second such result in the series. Only one of the five contests was decided by more than a one-goal spread, that being Game 1 on April 1, a 3-1 win for the Bombers. That means the Bombers’ back end was doing its job and so was goaltender Cal Schell.
“Cal was unbelievable,” said Anstey. “He’s the big reason we were winning those close games and our defence was on point the whole series.”
The Bombers ended up in the semifinal after beating the Battlefords North Stars in the quarter-final in six games, winning four in a row after dropping the opening two. They won the first three games against Humboldt before dropping Game 4. If you do the addition, the Bombers had won seven in a row before losing the fourth game and had eight wins in their last nine.
Anstey, who lines up at centre, said that was completely unexpected.
“If you take a look at how we finished the regular season, we only won three of our last 13 games,” he said. “We came off of two road losses in North Battleford and the doubt may have been there a bit. But we never thought we would roll off seven straight.”
Another big reason for the success? Home cooking, said Anstey.
“This town just went crazy when we got home for Game 3 (vs. the North Stars),” he said. “They won that game for us and Game 4, too. We were down 3-1 and came back to win it, 4-3, in overtime. Our fans are the best.”
Another reason Anstey figures the Bombers have been on a roll is character, something he said took him back to his Wolfpack days in Yellowknife.
“Our coach (Mike Reagan) reminds me a lot of my dad (Brad Anstey) and Dan (Schofield),” he said. “They used to talk a lot about character and how character wins you hockey games. We won a lot of games down south (as the Wolfpack) based off of our character — we might not be the best team but we’re going to go out and earn it. Mike talked about that overtime win against Battlefords as a character win and that reminded me of all those road trips with the Wolfpack.”
About that national championship: the Bombers have now qualified as the SJHL representative for the Centennial Cup, the Canadian Jr. A Championship. The Bruins are the host team for this year’s tournament and because of that, the Bombers get in by virtue of being in the final.
Anstey, though, isn’t satisfied with just being able to go.
“We want to go in as the champs,” he said. “That gives us more respect because it shows we aren’t there because we fluked our way in. We want to show everyone that we belong there. We want to go in with that ring on our finger.”