The Central Plains Capitals program will be represented well in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Final this week.
The Flin Flon Bombers will be taking on the Estevan Bruins, both teams having a Capital alumnus on their roster. Portager Kian Calder plays with the Bruins, and Austin’s Zak Smith is the captain of the Bombers. Smith outlines what it will be like playing against a familiar face with such high stakes.
“I played with Kian pretty much every year growing up, and I’m really good friends with him. So, it’ll be nice to see another guy on the ice that I grew up with and came up with, but at the same time, he’s an enemy on the ice,” Smith explains. “We can have laughs before the game, but during the game, it’s a battle. I think Kian would say the same thing, but then after the game, it’s all laughs again. It’s exciting, and good luck to him, but we want to win a championship, so I hope he loses.”
Smith and the Bombers took down the Battleford North Stars and The Humboldt Broncos in a pair of best-of-seven series to get to this point. Smith says that prepared them very well for this task ahead but notes this will definitely be their toughest challenge yet.
“Estevan is a good team, but we’ve proven that we’re a good team as well. We’re not going to try to play Estevan’s game, we want to play Bomber Hockey. That’s something we preached a lot over the playoffs,” says Smith. “There’s a lot of excitement and a lot of nerves going into the game, but you have to stay level-headed and treat it like any other series.”
The Team Captain describes what they call ‘Bomber Hockey’ as a physical style of play that puts heavy pressure on the opponent as soon as the puck drops. Smith notes they have one of the smaller rinks in the league in Flin Flon and says they try to use that to their advantage.
In their eleven playoff games so far, Smith has scored three goals and dished out three assists. He describes their biggest takeaway from the previous series'.
“Once it’s the playoffs, it’s a clean slate. Where you finished in the regular season doesn’t matter anymore,” Smith continues. “When we came into the playoffs, we struggled with that. We lost the first two games of the playoffs to Battleford, and then after that, our whole team started to learn the right way to play in the playoffs. Sacrificing the body, blocking shots, no turnovers at the blue line, being able to get pucks deep, and scoring on our opportunities, were all key for us.”
Smith and the Bombers have won eight of their last nine games since losing their first two postseason contests. Flin Flon finished the season as the fifth-ranked team in the regular season, but has now knocked off the fourth and second-ranked squads, to get the opportunity to play the first placed Bruins in the final.
The Austin, Manitoba product has had very few deep playoff runs throughout his career with the Central Plains Capitals and Red Deer Rebels (WHL). Smith says this is the furthest he’s ever made it in the postseason, and he plans to make the most of it.
“This is a dream come true. It’s not very often that you get a kick at the can in your last year, so it’s exciting,” says Smith. “You have to make the most of these opportunities because sometimes you only get one shot at it, like I will.”
He notes it’s even more gratifying having this be his final season of Junior Hockey and being the captain of this team. With that being said, Smith adds he’s trying not to get caught up in the magnitude of things too much before the series gets underway.
Game 1 of this best-of-seven final is set for Friday at 7:00 in Estevan.