Chris Roberts/Courtesy of lloydminstersource.com
Needing nothing short of a miracle to make the AJHL playoffs, the Lloydminster Bobcats organization and its players will soon officially turn their focus to next year.
And more than any off-season in the past the Bobcats will have some critical decisions to make, following a season that has left them in the North Division basement since the outset and saw them fire their coach just months into his tenure.
It won’t be a complete overhaul; in fact, there are currently nine ‘93-born players on this year’s roster vying for one of six overage spots next season.
“I know that these last couple of games, last couple of practices, it’s going to be a battle for next year, so you’ve got to come prepared for the games (and) the practices,” said forward Tanner Dunkle, one of those nine players competing for a spot.
Given the team’s desire for change following this season, it’s more than likely that the Bobcats will look to go outside the organization to fill those overage roles, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of options on the team already.
One player that fans can be sure to see wearing black and orange next season is defenceman and recently-named captain Grant Baker.
“Grant’s come miles, a lot of people don’t know Grant’s story, he kind of just blew up out of the scene, out of the woodwork, he wasn’t really a high recruit out of midget, but the guy has absolutely blossomed,” said interim head coach Kyle Tapp on Tuesday, adding that he’s already discussed the importance of finishing strong with his team.
“I told them today it’s about creating a resume, with the whole league being on video, everyone can watch every shift you’ve had all year, and it’s about just laying that resume out there.”
Outside of Baker, who is a lock to return, blueliners Ray Bell and Jordyn Wozniak are among those competing for a spot on next year’s team. Both players have their deficiencies – Wozniak has played just 33 games this season as he has dealt with injuries and Bell provides limited offence – but they have both proven they belong in this league.
Whether or not they have proved they are deserving of an overage spot, Tapp said, is ultimately up to general manager Garry Vanhereweghe and also dependant upon the amount of work they put in over the summer.
“I think every year starts in August, you come to camp and see who had a good summer, who had a bad summer … and ultimately it’s not until you get into exhibition that things will start to play themselves out,” Tapp explained.
Up front, Dunkle, who had 27 goals just a year ago with the Olds Grizzlys, has just nine goals this season in 48 games, but he’s hoping the work he puts in over the summer, combined with a strong finish to the season, can help secure himself an overage spot for next season.
“I guess I just had a lucky year last year,” said Dunkle with laugh. “But that’s definitely what my goal would be is to get somewhere around (27) next year.”
Other forwards competing for a spot next year include Austin McDonald, Braden Crone, Nolan Yaremchuk, Tanner Clarkson and Kelvin Walz.
“It’s a tough rule,” said Walz of the team limit of six overagers. “But you just gotta train hard in the summer, nothing’s ever given and we know that in junior hockey, you could be in one place one day and another the next day, you’ve got to take it day-by-day and just train hard in the off-season.”
Tapp stressed that the field is simply too wide open right now to suggest who might be back next year, but if the interim head coach is back for another year he would have no problem having any of those nine players on his roster.
“I don’t know how it’s going to shake out, I don’t even know if I’m going to be here, but whoever gets any of those nine ‘93s they’re going to be very lucky.”