The Flin Flon Bombers and Estevan Bruins are putting it on all the line tonight.
The two teams are knotted at 3-3 in the best-of-seven series to crown the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Champions, with the winner-take-all outing going down tonight.
The Bombers dropped the first two games on the road before tying the series up 2-2 in the following two contests. Austin, Manitoba product, and Flin Flon team captain, Zak Smith says they have fought through adversity all year, so they were mentally prepared for that challenge.
"You just have to hit the reset button," Smith explains. "After the game, you have to wipe the slate clean and move on to the next game. So, we weren't heading into Flin Flon thinking we were down 0-2. We went in with the mindset of 'it's a 0-0 hockey game,' and we just wanted to play the game our way. We knew we were going to come back to a packed building in Flin Flon, with a really good atmosphere, and we took care of business."
Bombers Captain Zak Smith discusses what the mood is like in the room and what the Bombers need to do to send this series back to Estevan— Flin Flon Bombers (@FFBombers) May 4, 2022
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While Flin Flon has won three of the last four games in the series, they have yet to win a game in Estevan, which is where tonight's Game 7 will take place. Bruins defenceman, and Portager, Kian Calder says having the home-ice advantage is huge for them.
"That's why we play 58 games in the regular season, for advantages in moments like this," says Calder. "We know our rink a little better than they do. So, I think it'll work out in our favour."
On the other side of the ice, Smith talks about their keys to taking the first road victory of the series.
"It's going to be about heart and character, that's what our coach has been talking about a lot over the playoffs. Estevan has a good crowd, but I think every game we've played there in this series, we've gotten closer, and closer, to coming away with a win. In Game 5, we were 5.8 seconds away from having a chance to win it at home. So, I think we just have to go in there and play period by period."
In Game 5, the Bombers had a 2-0 lead after the first period and held a 2-1 until the final seconds of the third, when Estevan was able to tie it up. The Bruins ultimately took the victory in overtime, in a game where Calder picked up his first point of the series.
Olivier Pouliot with the Game 5 winner in overtime for the @estevanbruins!!— SJHL (@theSJHL) May 1, 2022
Bruins hold a 3-2 series lead with game 6 back up in Flin Flon on Tuesday night!
What a game #SJHLChampionship pic.twitter.com/IUEoln2HSM
Calder and the Bruins have had their sights set on the SJHL Championship since the beginning of the season, as they are hosting the Centennial Cup, but wanted to prove they deserved to be there by winning. He notes the little things will be the key to finishing the job.
"Taking pride in our defensive zone, picking up guys, working hard, cycling pucks, doing the little things right is going to be important," Calder explains. "We just want to stick to our game plan."
Smith says the Bombers fought adversity many times in the playoffs already, whereas, the Bruins had just one loss on their way to the finals. He believes this gives them an edge in Game 7.
"I don't think Estevan has really been tested at all these playoffs. Playing Notre Dame and Yorkton, I wouldn't say they had an easy path to the finals, but I don't think they were tested as much as we were," Smith continues. "We had to have a dog fight with Battleford and had another tough series with Humboldt. I think we've grinded our way to the Finals. Now that we've made it to Game 7, everyone knows how to play playoff hockey, and we have 25 guys on the bus that are pretty confident we can come home with a championship."
Calder says he wants to do what he does best and be the player that Estevan needs in this game, whatever that might be.
"I'm just going to approach it like a regular game. You don't want to get away from what you're supposed to be doing. You have to play your role on the team," Calder continues. "You don't want to do too much because it's a bigger game. So, you just have to stick with what you've been doing all year and hope it works out for you."
The team captain for Flin Flon has been on a roll offensively in this series, as he has multiple points in five of the six games thus far. The local has six goals and 11 points in this series and says he's just been in a zone lately.
"I've never really gone on a stretch like this before, but you have to show up big when you're in big moments. I think I've done a great job handling that. You have to take things day by day and you don't want to look too much into it. At the end of the day, I just want a championship, individual stats don't really matter to me," Smith explains. "You just have to elevate your game in times like these, and I feel I've done a good job of that."
Throughout the entire postseason, Smith has been a point per game player, collecting 17 points in 17 games.
On the other side of the puck, Calder has five points in 15 playoff games heading into tonight. He says this will be his first Game 7 experience. Calder describes what he is most looking forward to.
"The energy," says Calder. "Our building sold out in like an hour. So, it's going to be packed, and it's going to be loud. I'm looking forward to that."
Smith will also be taking part in his first Game 7 tonight.
"It's something that I think about, but you don't want to look too much into it. I'm just taking it day by day, but it's something that's really exciting, and something I've never been a part of," Smith continues. "I just want to win a championship for Flin Flon. The team needs it, and the town needs it. It's exciting."
The do-or-die matchup is set for tonight in Estevan, with puck drop set for 8:00. Regardless of the outcome, both of these teams will be taking part in the 2022 Centennial Cup Tournament.