Mike Reagan grew up in Flin Flon and has spent most of his adult life coaching or playing for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Bombers.
Nothing in those 19 years could have adequately prepared him for the chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of a lost season — the club's 2020-21 campaign was halted after two games last fall and wiped out for good on March 22 — has been difficult to calculate.
But the Bombers, one of Manitoba's most historic junior franchises, plan to be in business this fall. Financial details should be made known at the community-owned team's annual general meeting next month.
"We've worked extremely hard to make sure that we're going to be OK coming out of this," said Reagan via telephone Thursday afternoon. "It depends on how much longer this lasts but I feel that our organization has worked hard fundraising.
"Obviously we've had some help from the government when it comes to small business loans. Without the help every junior team has received from government, it would be really tough."
Last month, the Bombers were one of seven SJHL clubs — the Weyburn Red Wings, Melfort Mustangs, Nipawin Hawks, Kindersley Klippers, Humboldt Broncos and Estevan Bruins were believed to be the others — making a joint proposal to Saskatchewan provincial health authority, laying out plans to host a spring hub season hosted by Weyburn's Crescent Point Place.
"We've worked extremely hard to make sure that we're going to be OK coming out of this." — Flin Flon Bombers general manager and head coach Mike Reagan
The league's other five franchises opted not to participate in what was likely a cost-cutting decision.
"The frustrating thing is we weren't given an answer to why we weren't allowed," said Reagan. "We got an email probably two weeks after the decision with their reasoning. To me, it was all things that easily could have been taken care of. Just some minor details."
Reagan, a member of the league's return to play committee, said the health authority objected to one floor of the hotel being open to the public. He said a complete hotel lockdown would and could have been a quick fix.
"I was a little bit shocked when we got denied to be honest with you," said Reagan. "I thought we were going to get the green light to play in a bubble like the WHL but that obviously that didn't happen."
The news didn't sit well with players such as Ethan McColm, an 18-year-old defenceman from Oakbank.
"Ultimately, it was out of my control and we couldn't really do anything about it, but I know all the guys were pretty stoked to get the season going," said McColm, who plans to return in fall after playing only one game with the Bombers. "We were hearing some positive news back from the government of Saskatchewan and we were getting our hopes up.
"It's unfortunate and now we're just kind of shifting our mindset to next season."
McColm returned home months ago, started a job in the Larters golf course pro shop and kept hard at his training — at the rink and in the home gym.
"It sucks that the season got cancelled but I'm doing everything I can to get on the ice and keep training and prepare for next season," he said.
When McColm returns, he'll be representing a franchise with a storied place in the provincial hockey landscape.
Located minutes from the Saskatchewan border, the Bombers are a long distance from most of the MJHL's member teams and have, for practical purposes, played in the SJHL by special agreement with Hockey Manitoba since 1984. Despite border restrictions that hampered the team's travel last fall, Reagan said the idea of returning to play in Manitoba was a non-starter.
"We're happy being in SJHL," said Reagan. "We've never really considered going back to the MJHL or anything like that. I'm sure that at some point during last year, there may have been some talk from certain people that it might be a way for us to play — especially early on it appeared that way, right?
"The MJHL was playing and we weren't. But I think that would be real difficult to do and would've asked a lot of the MJHL."
Earlier this year, the SJHL was the recipient of a $1-million grant from the Saskatchwan government. How that money is divided up has yet to be announced.
The Bombers, who operate on a budget of $500,00 to $700,000 per season, feel they are entitled to a piece of the pie.
"We pay our league fees just like every other team and a majority of our money — I'd say 90 per cent of our money — is spent in Saskatchewan," said Reagan, 42. "When you take a look at hotels food, travel, gas, even something as small as our bus maintenance is done in Saskatchewan. Our feeling is that we contribute just as much as anybody else in the league to the Saskatchewan economy."
The franchise recently got a break from the city, when council put an outstanding loan of $27,000 in abeyance. The amount will not break the bank, Reagan said, but the temporary relief is welcomed.
"We've got very passionate people (supporting) the Bombers and with it being such a historic organization there's a lot of pride in the community and a lot of people that want to make sure that we're financially stable and that we can have some success going forward," explained Reagan.
The Bombers had 11 Manitobans on their roster in 2020-21 and should have a similar number in 2021-22. Reagan said although he is only two players short of his recruiting goal, the work is very time consuming.
"It's not just good enough that we're a historic franchise anymore when it comes to recruiting," said Reagan. "A lot of the players don't know who Bobby Clarke is or Reggie Leach. Usually when I'm recruiting, I'm telling them to ask their dads about Bobby Clarke and even now, there's some dads that don't know."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.