The Lloydminster Bobcats scored early and often on their way to a 6-3 victory on the road against the rival Bonnyville Pontiacs on Tuesday night, as Lloydminster native Linden Springer got it started for the Bobcats on the powerplay just three minutes into the first period. “It’s huge for this team to score first,” said Head Coach Garry VanHereweghe after the game, “we’re a team that has had to play some catch up, but if we can get up one or two on a team we can quite often hold on.” On the goal, Bryce Woodward came out of the Pontiacs corner with the puck after some strong board play from Tanner Dunkle and fed the puck to Springer on the point, whose wrist shot found its way through a screened Tyler Klein in the Pontiacs net for the only goal of the period. Lloydminster would get twelve more shots on Klein in the period while the Pontiacs managed six on Sean Kuehn, who got the start for the Bobcats on the heels of his first career AJHL shutout last Friday.
Pontiacs Luke Mahura scored in transition only one minute into the second period to tie the game at 1-1. Lloydminster pulled back ahead less than two minutes afterwards when Austin McDonald redirected a Tyler Kunz shot from the point for his fifteenth goal of the season. Captain Grant Baker would pick up the second assist on the goal, but Bonnyville would answer back ten minutes later, as Redford Swan buried a goal from the slot after Kuehn looked to be interfered with in front of the Bobcats net. Before the period was out, Bryce Woodward stole the puck from Klein behind the Pontiacs net and found Braden Crone for his twelfth goal on the year, and the Bobcats headed to the dressing room up 3-2 and outshooting Bonnyville 26-17 through two periods.
Bonnyville would again tie the game in the first minute of a period. Ryan Black scored just 46 seconds into the third after a Bobcats break down in the defensive zone. The powerplay came through once more for the Bobcats moments later, as Linden Springer regained the lead for the Bobcats with his second goal of the evening on a point shot that found the back of the net through traffic. Austin Yaremchuk and Lukas Biensch each earned assists on the goal, which came just three minutes after the Pontiacs third goal. After holding off a Pontiacs push to tie the game, the Bobcats netted the insurance goal with three minutes remaining thanks to a bullet from Nolan Yaremchuk in the slot. Springer started the play to earn his third point on the night, and Geary found Yaremchuk in transition to set up the 5-3 goal. On the penalty kill in the final minute, Ryan Swier was able to clear the puck to a streaking Troy Rapuano who buried the empty net goal with three seconds remaining to give the Bobcats their sixth and final goal on the night.
Springer finished the game with two goals and an assist to earn three points in the victory, something VanHereweghe was very pleased to see, “Linden stepped up and took control from the drop of the puck.” The assistant captain now has eight points on the year, just five points less than his totals in 2012-13, “He was very effective both offensively and defensively tonight, and was a strong physical presence,” added VanHereweghe. Springer seems to have found his groove, serving as a mentor figure beside young sixteen year old defensive partner Mitchell Brennan, “Linden and Mitchell were a very effective pairing on the back end all night long for us,” said VanHereweghe on the duo.
With his assist on the Bobcats first goal, leading scorer Tanner Dunkle extended his point streak to five consecutive games. Rookie Bryce Woodward picked up two assists in the game, giving the former Baker Hughes Midget AAA star thirteen points on the season. Kuehn picked up his second straight victory, setting aside 21 of 24 shots for his seventh win of the season while Pontiacs goaltender Stephen Klein stopped 32 of 38 shots in the loss.
The Bobcats now sit in sole possession of third place in the North Division with 40 points, two more than the fourth place Whitecourt Wolverines, and will look to stretch that gap tomorrow night (Dec. 11) when they play host to the first place Spruce Grove Saints. VanHereweghe knows his team is in for a test against the #1 nationally ranked Saints, “everyone on their team is totally committed; they play hard and they’re an honest, hard-working hockey team.”
Puck drop tomorrow night at home is at 7:30 PM.