Bobcats handle pressure of national spotlight

Courtesy of @AndrewBrethauer

If ever there was a must-win game for the Lloydminster Bobcats, Saturday’s finale to Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada against Sherwood Park was just that.

And the Bobcats lived up to the pressure with a 3-0 shutout victory.

While the cameras, the large crowd and the presence of Don Cherry and the entire nation watching along on CBC during intermissions of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs game was enough to put pressure on every player heading out onto the ice, there was the added pressure of needing to pick up two points against the Crusaders, who sit behind the Bobcats in the North division.

“I give the guys credit, in front of a crowd and the national TV and everything else that is going on, to put that mentally behind them and focus on the two points,” said Bobcats head coach Garry VanHereweghe.

The dressing room was quiet before game time, as the Bobcats knew the pressure coming into the game and needing to not only pick up to the two points, but also putting an exclamation mark on the national broadcast.

And it didn’t take long for the Bobcats to cure the jitters and settle the game down, as Taylor Mulder opened the scoring in the first period just over a minute into the game. His 11th goal of the season may be the biggest so far of his season, and earned the Bobcats forward a chance to speak in front of the nation during the first intermission, a spot normally reserved for NHL stars during the primetime Hockey Night in Canada game.

And he got to keep the customary CBC towel that regularly finds its place around the neck of the NHL star.

“I got to keep the towel,” said Mulder. “It feels good to get that goal and be the guy who does it.”

After no scoring in the second period, Lloydminster would look to close out their Hockey Day performance with a victory, but not before adding some insurance to keep the over 1,800 fans in attendance entertained. Tanner Dunkle would add an early goal in the third period, and pot another on the power play for his second of the night, as the Bobcats put 35 shots on net in the 3-0 victory.

“I’m lost for words,” said Dunkle after the game about scoring two goals during the national broadcast. “It was all my line mates. Beautiful pass by (Austin) MacDonald in the slot and I just tried getting it on net. And just a simple shot by (Braden)Crone, got lucky and batted one in.”

In the back end, Devin Green got the start for the Bobcats and turned aside 16 shots to earn only his second shutout of the season.

Lloydminster played one of their most complete games defensively, limiting the amount of scoring chances on their goalie, allowing Green to ease into the game, and get the feel for the puck off his pads early on.

“The nerves were there,” said Green.

“The team in front of me did their job. The shots I did have, they cleared the net so I saw a clear sight. It was easy to cover rebounds.”

The victory keeps the Bobcats in third place, four points up on Sherwood Park, however, the Crusaders have three games in hand. And believe it or not, to VanHereweghe, the biggest pressure in the game came from their position in the standings and what this game meant for playoff implications, over the extra attractions going on around them.

“We went into their rink and lost by one and I thought we had a chance last night to get points. But we realized if we get that split, we’ve eliminated two games with the team behind us,” said VanHereweghe. “The guys put everything else that was going on behind them and enjoyed it. It was a great opportunity for them, but they stayed focused and knew the two points were huge.”

But the Bobcats couldn’t get away from the festivities of the night, starting with custom team jerseys designed to replicate Don Cherry’s suit, and of course, the introduction of Grapes himself, coming down the stairs at the Centennial Civic Centre and out onto the ice in front of a sold-out arena.

Cherry would make his second appearance of the night for Coaches Corner that was broadcasted live from the Civic Centre.

“The greatest sweaters this year,” said Cherry during the Coach’ Corner broadcast.