The Estevan Bruins will have an unlikely opponent in the first round of the SJHL's playoffs.
Estevan will face the Flin Flon Bombers in a best-of-five survivor series match-up. The Bruins wound up as the league's seventh seed with 63 points, thanks to a 27-20-3-6 record, while Flin Flon is the 10th seed with 49 points (23-29-1-2); the Bombers have one game remaining.
The top six seeds received a bye to the league's quarter-finals; Estevan wound up four points behind the Humboldt Broncos for the sixth seed.
The Bruins finished the season by splitting a home-and-home against the Weyburn Red Wings. Estevan won 1-0 on February 28 at Affinity Place, thanks to Matt Gibney's 29 saves to pick up the shutout, Tanner Froese's game-winning goal late in the second period, and a strong team effort.
But the Bruins lost 3-2 in Weyburn the following night. Michael Sagen and Austin Roesslein scored for Estevan, while Brett Lewchuk made 29 saves.
The Bruins hopes for finishing in the top six were dashed even before the game in Weyburn was finished, as Humboldt had already secured the necessary points to finish in the top six.
This is the fourth straight years that the Bruins will play in the survivor series. Estevan has won that first round showdown each year, and Froese, who is the Bruins' captain, is hopeful that experience will pay off.
"You can't be scared going into it," Froese told Lifestyles. "We're going to be the underdogs (if we advance), so everyone's going to be looking down on us. So if we play with confidence, and play the way we can, we'll have nothing to worry about."
The Bruins won three of four meetings against the Bombers this year. Flin Flon won the first meeting, a 3-1 decision on October 16. But the Bruins then won twice in Flin Flon –2-0 on October 24 and 5-2 on December 7. And Estevan shelled the Bombers 7-1 on February 1 in Estevan.
"We know we can beat them," said Froese. "We've proven that in the past. We just have to keep coming out with that effort against them every time."
When Estevan routed Flin Flon on February 1, the Bombers were languishing in last place overall. But they won six of their last nine games to seize the final playoff spot ahead of Weyburn.
"The team that we saw in Estevan appeared to be defeated, and down-and-out," said Bruins' head coach and GM Chris Lewgood. "They must have rallied around one another, and dug in, and they've been playing really good hockey for the last month."
If the Bruins play well together, then they should be all right, Lewgood said.
Lewgood admitted he's disappointed that the club wasn't able to secure a top-six seed.
"There are benefits to resting the ailing bodies, and things like that," said Lewgood. "But I want to be clear that it's not just a disappointment from tonight (the loss against Weyburn). It's for the entire season. You have 56 games to secure one of those spots, and we fell shy."
Lewgood expects that the Bruins will have all of their players back for the series, except for forward Keaton Longpre, who remains sidelined with a back injury. Forward Ben Johnstone and defenceman Nick Egan missed the final game of the regular season due to injuries, while league scoring champion Austin Daae was suspended due to a boarding penalty on February 28.
The tentative schedule for the series is: Games 1 and 2 would be March 7 and 8, respectively, at Affinity Place at 7:30 p.m. Games 3 and 4 are scheduled for March 10 and 11 in Flin Flon. The latter game would not be needed if there's a sweep. Game 5, if necessary, would be March 13 in Estevan.