Chris Roberts/Courtesy of lloydminstersource.com
Earlier this year, amidst a nine-game losing streak to begin the season, the Lloydminster Bobcats lacked confidence throughout their lineup. Or at least looked that way.
Now, after beating a strong Grande Prairie Storm team twice in as many nights, players from top to bottom seem to have an extra jump in their step, a swagger if you will. And that’s evident in talking with the players.
“Hopefully we can make a good run here and make playoffs and go from there,” said 16-year-old affiliate player Ryley Wozniak, who scored his first goal of the season on Saturday night.
Playoffs are still a lofty goal for the Bobcats, but the fact that they’re even mentioning the ‘P-word’ is a sign of where their confidence is at right now, and that confidence is thanks in large part to the recent play of rookies like Wozniak.
Along with Wozniak, young players like defencemen Austin Yaremchuk and Spencer Johnstone, and more recently, 18-year-old rookie goaltender Devin Green, have been stepping up for the Bobcats.
Though it’s been veterans like Jason Wark, Dustin Lebrun and Grant Baker who have been driving the Bobcats recently, players like Yaremchuk, Wozniak and Green have been riding shotgun.
“They’re learning how to compete every night … they are preparing themselves, they’re coming to play, it’s good to see, they’re adapting to the junior game,” said Bobcats head coach Ryan Parent.
Yaremchuk has quietly become a fan favourite with his fists, as the 17-year-old has shown he has no problem dropping his gloves to spark the team, but he has been much more than that.
After starting in just four games during the month of September, Yaremchuk has steadily earned the trust of his head coach and quickly climbed the team’s depth chart – during this past weekend, he played most of his minutes with Grant Baker, the team’s top defenceman.
“He’s a 17-year-old defenceman still in high school, part of it for him is learning how to compete every night, and I think he’s really got the knack, he works hard day-to-day. And he’s starting to develop a strong mental game, which is important,” said Parent of Yaremchuk.
Parent went on to give Yaremchuk even greater praise – “I see him being one of the best ‘95-born (defencemen) in the league. He can make plays, he’s not just a grind-it-out D man, he’s able to make plays, he’s simple with his play, and he’s effective.”
He has gone without a point in his last seven, but has looked as steady as ever. Prior to his pointless streak, he had eight points in eight games, proving that offensive ability is also there.
Wozniak’s goal on Saturday also may have made him a fan favourite, but for a much different reason.
“It was during thirsty three minutes I heard, so a lot of fans liked it,” said Wozniak with a laugh. His goal allowed fans to get $2 off beer for the rest of the second period.
At just 16 years old, with his speed and skill, there’s likely many more to come for Wozniak.
“I know it’s coming for him, he’ll see more productivity as he goes, he’s still a guy who’s on an affiliate card, but you know, he works very hard and he wants to be an offensive contributor,” said Parent.
As for Green, Parent didn’t mince words when asked just how good the Calgary native can be.
“My opinion of Devin Green is that Okotoks let go of the wrong guy, and I think they know it now,” he exclaimed. “We knew he was a good goalie, he was a hard goalie to get on board for any team at the beginning of the year, and Okotoks let him go to us.”
The Bobcats are currently eight points out of a playoff spot entering the second half of the season, but if they can carry over the momentum they picked up at the end of the first half, a playoff berth isn’t out of the question.
And if not, they have at least begun to develop a good core for the future.
“We have a lot of good rookies and once they develop lots their first year, it just helps out the team for the future,” said Wozniak.
The Bobcats host the Grande Prairie Storm once again tonight at the Civic Centre. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
‘CATS MAKE MINOR MOVE
The Bobcats continued to add depth this week, acquiring Brooks Bandits forward Josh Cook in exchange for future considerations.
In six games with the Bandits this season, Cook was held pointless, picking up a single minor penalty.
The Kelowna, B.C. product is expected to not only help out this season, but at just 18-years-old, could be a factor next season.