By Gary Moskalyk
Record: 29-20-3 63 PTS .583% 3rd GF 189 GA 156 +33 PP 18.0% PK 79.4% Playoff Result: 1st Round Exit
Key Players Lost 2002: F Ty Bahm 20-25-55, F Lucas Trimarchi 16-27-43, F Graham Patrick 9-14-23, D Tyler Decoff 4-13-17, D Logan James 2-11-13, G Jake Manners 22-12-3 2.35 GAA .930 Save% Goalie-of-the-year.
Returning Players: D Dayvan Bull, D Tait Howell, D Nolan Palmer, D Peter Zilkalns, F Blake Burke, F Connor Burke, F Mitchell Daines, F Ty Lone, F Alex Lucas, F Owen Riffel.
Goalies: Matthew Ofukany 5-18-0 4.38 .879, Matthew Spencer-Dahl 2 teams, Matthew Kuhnlein 3-4-0 4.43 .888 Golden Rockets KIJHL
The Sioux Lookout Bombers forged an excellent season in their inaugural SIJHL campaign going 29-20-3, good for third place in the seven team loop. They had goalie-of-the year Jake Manners. They we’re plus-33 overall.
But regular season success didn’t translate in the playoffs. The visiting Wisconsin Lumberjacks took a 3-2 game-seven overtime win in The Hangar before a lively sell-out crowd of 580 fans to close out the season.
“We’ve had a lot of time to reflect in the summer, especially for myself,” said head coach Carson Johnstone. “We were out the first round. A lot of self reflection, think about the mistakes I made as a coach, mistakes we made as a team. Try to build on that. I thought we fell short when we lost in the playoffs. Yeah, injuries there’s other stuff that can affect the lineup but I think we had enough to still prevail. It felt like a missed opportunity for us.
“Give Wisconsin credit. Credit to them for playing so well in the playoffs.”
There’s no major overhaul to the roster, but there are tweaks.
“Last year we felt we were a bit undersized. We kind of went with a more skilled route. I think we still have the skill, we just added a little more sandpaper. A bit bigger size. A lot of returning guys.”
There are about 10 returning players coming back. Final rosters will be available shortly before the beginning the season,
Sioux Lookout defeated Kenora handily in exhibition play, but lost to Red Lake twice.
“Camp’s been good. We had around 30-35 guys at our prospect camp. We cut down to 28 for our main camp. And now we’re down to 24 before the season starts here. Definitely a better camp than last year. That was a positive for us for sure.”
A couple of prospects from Saskatchewan are arriving soon–“to see if they can push a couple of guys out of the lineup.”
“We turned guys away which was pretty wild for us. It’s a different feeling for sure,” said Johnstone. “You never really know 100 per cent if you’re making the right decisions but I think with the guys we have we’re going to be competitive right now.
“Coming up to the league last year and watching it for the first time I think the league has made more strides as a league. I think the play is less ugly and more hockey.”
The SIJHL has gone to a 49-game schedule–five less than last year’s slate of 54.
“The CJHL’s main purpose is to move guys on to college hockey and college hockey rarely play more than 30-35 games a year. We play way more games than college hockey,” offered Johnstone. “It allows a team to put a lot more into player development. It’s not professional at this level. I like the shorter schedule. I think it make sense for the league.”
The 2023-24 season is a scant few days away. The Bombers enter the campaign with Jake Manners gone and a battle in net. Matthew Kuhnlein from Calgary, AB was just added (September 19th).
“I’m just excited to see what every team’s got this year,” said Johnstone. “You never know. You can feel confident about your squad but until the puck drops, you step on the ice against the other 16 to 20 year-old men, you never know how your team is going to fare. We feel ‘cautiously optimistic’. That’s a term I like to use.”