Andrew Brethauer/Courtesy of lloydminstersource.com
Confidence-wise, the Lloydminster Bobcats are at the highest point of the season so far.
Coming off back to back wins against Grande Prairie over the weekend, the Bobcats erased the early season hole they had dug themselves, climbing out as a .500 hockey club with four points on the road trip.
It was a weekend the team needed after a few close losses put the team at 1-3 to start the season and should help produce confidence in a team filled with rookies.
“I think moving forward we needed to see that they are having some success in that end,” said Bobcats head coach Garry VanHereweghe. “We got a couple that went the other way early in the season that I thought we were certainly in the game, but we made a few too many errors and ended up didn’t getting rewarded. It certainly feels good to go up to Grande Prairie and come out with four points.”
Friday night’s game was a close 3-2 victory, as the Bobcats opened the first period with two goals in the first five minutes of play, including a power-play goal from Patrick Geary. While the Storm would cut the lead minutes later, the Bobcats would go back up by two in the second off a Nolan Yaremchuck goal.
Grande Prairie would add one more in the second, but a scoreless third would give the ‘Cats their first win of the weekend.
Game two saw the Bobcats take another first-period lead and ride it to victory, as three goals in the first, and one on the power play to start the second would give Lloydminster a 4-1 lead. Grande Prairie would make a game of it, adding two more to cut the lead to one, but again the Bobcats held on to a one goal victory for their second win.
Devin Green picked up both victories for the Bobcats, stopping 25 shots Friday night, and 22 shots on Saturday.
Coming out of the first period with a lead is something of an unknown to the Bobcats, who have had to play catch up most of the season. Playing with the lead will be something to work on for the team moving forward, as in each game the ‘Cats almost gave up the victory.
“We talked about trying to get the lead early and playing with the lead,” said VanHereweghe. “We were very successful in both games in coming out real hard and creating opportunities and capitalizing on getting the lead. As the game went on we kind of let them back in, so I think we are a team that once we do get a lead, we need to learn how to play with that lead and not take our foot off the throttle.”
Lloydminster was able to find the back of the net in each game on the power play, scoring twice on seven chances. More impressive is the penalty kill that had to kill off 10 power plays over the weekend, and managed to do so. Discipline is still a work in progress for the Bobcats, but for the young team, it’s handy to have a solid penalty kill in their back pocket.
“Penalty kill was certainly a concern going in,” said VanHereweghe. “That was one focus we had to get better.”
With three games remaining in September, the Bobcats have a chance to get out of the month above the .500 mark. Last season, the ‘cats could not wait for the month to end, going 0-8-1 to open the season before winning their first game when the calendar turned to October.
Winning games is obviously important to the club, but building the team confidence is a priority so the history of last season doesn’t repeat itself.
“It’s very important confidence wise and for us to measure where we are at in relation to other teams in the North and Alberta,” said VanHereweghe. “It’s huge going into Grande Prairie on a long road trip like that, and you can come back with four points, it’s certainly very beneficial.”
The Bobcats now sit in sixth position in the North Division. It will be a busy weekend coming for the Bobcats with three games in three days, starting with two games Friday and Saturday afternoon as part of the AJHL Showcase in Spruce Grove before the team returns home to take on the Fort McMurray Oil Barons at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.