The 2024 SJHL Canterra Seeds Cup final had a few different connections to west-central Sasktachewan. On the ice, Kerrobert's Austin Shepherd capped off his rookie season with an SJHL championship, taking down the Flin Flon Bombers, who began their playoff run with a first round sweep of the Kindersley Jr. Klippers.

Stepping off the ice, between the benches in fact, the region had yet another connection to the final series. West-central native Nick Nielsen wielded a microphone for interviews and much more, as the SJHL utilized their full broadcast team to capture every second of the Canterra Seeds Cup. 

The Scott, Saskatchewan native shared more on his role across the six game series, capped off by a 4-1 Melfort win back on Tuesday.

"I was running all the interviews on the ice. I had interviews pre-game, in the middle of the first and second period with each coach, I was talking a lot with all the players," said Nielsen. "Then at the end of the series I went on the ice and did all the interviews during the SaskTel Max live TV broadcast, interviewing all the champion players and stuff like that from the Mustangs."

Typically a play-by-play man, Nielsen relished the different role, and would gladly do it again next year should the opportunity be available.

"It was a really cool experience being part of that broadcast crew, and I am hoping I can do so again next year too. 

Shifting focus to the series itself, Nielsen enjoyed watching the SJHL's top two seeds battle it out for the championship.

"It was a fantastic series of hockey, really great story from start to finish," he began. "Flin Flon coming in being this rested team, only playing 24 periods of hockey in two rounds. Meanwhile, Melfort came in with 29 periods played in Round 2 alone. Had to go seven games against Humboldt."

Nielsen credited the Mustangs for dealing with adversity, whether it was fighting the injury bug, or playing in a tough road environment in Flin Flon.

"A couple wins in the Whitney Forum to start off the series, which is difficult for anybody," shared Nielsen. "It was awesome. Every single game had a great aura to it, you know the rinks were alive and well in all six games. Couldn't have asked for a better final, it was a lot of fun."

While some people saw the series as lopsided headed in, the Mustangs quickly proved why they were a formidable foe for the Bombers. 

"In hindsight, I think it's not as much of an upset, just because of the kind of style Melfort plays," said Nielsen who keeps a keen eye on the league. "With Flin Flon, they were ranked #1 in the country for so long, finished the season ranked #2. Everyone knew Flin Flon was this fast, offensive juggernaut. If there was a team in the SJHL that was suited to play against the Bombers, it was the Melfort Mustangs."

The 'hard-hitting defensive style' described by Nielsen proved to be too much for Flin Flon. Constant pressure was a major part of the Mustangs gameplan, helping them slow things down against the high-flying Bombers.

"I think they were able to slow the series down, throw some big hits, make the series physical. It made a real big difference," said Nielsen, giving a shoutout to a west-central player who was banging-bodies all series long. "One of the local guys you are talking about, Austin Shepherd, was a big difference maker in the series. Only had four points, but he hit everything that moved. Flin Flon didn't like it when guys like him were on the ice. They knew they were going to have to look over their shoulder for every single puck they went after, because the Mustangs really knew how to throw a shoulder and slow the series down."

Austin Shepherd Tye Scherger_0.jpg Austin Shepherd and another west-central native on Mustangs assistant coach Tye Scherger (Photo courtesy Marli Shepherd)

Taking some time now to celebrate, Shepherd, Scherger, and the rest of the Mustangs should be right back to work soon. Melfort will depart for the Centennial Cup in Oakville, Ontario next week, joining the host Blades alongside the champions coming out of Hockey Canada's nine other Junior "A" leagues.