The 2015 portion of the 2015-16 season has come to a close, and it has been a year to remember for the Lloydminster Bobcats.
Carrying the weight of expectations as the host team of the 2016 RBC Cup, the ‘Cats quickly proved that they were for real, coming out of the gate with seven consecutive wins before suffering their first loss against the undefeated Spruce Grove Saints on September 29th. The loss to Spruce Grove was part of a tough four-game patch for the Bobcats, winning twice in a shootout and losing in regulation to the Saints and the Brooks Bandits. However, the team bounced back from the first real adversity of the season in an impressive manner.
Following the loss to Brooks in game two of the AJHL Showcase, the ‘Cats narrowly defeated the Drayton Valley Thunder 4-3 in a shootout, and went in to Spruce Grove the next night and delivered the first loss of the year to the Saints. Those two wins were the first of a franchise-record 11-game win streak that carried through November 4th. At the conclusion of the winning streak, the Bobcats boasted an AJHL-best record of 19-2. While the team was rolling on the ice, several members became involved in an off-ice project that is intended to bring value to our community.
In mid-September, four Bobcats players took a trip along with local RCMP members to Vancouver to participate in Project Keep Straight, an initiative to expose the players to life on the streets before delivering a message against drugs and crime to schools in Lloydminster and surrounding communities. Noah Bauld, Cole Josefchak, Evan Tschumi, and Troy Van Tetering all made the trip, and have since been giving powerful presentations for students across the region. The Bobcats would like to thank Fountain Tire, Devon Canada, and the Lloydminster Rotary Club for their support of this program. Back on the ice, the Bobcats received exceptional support from a valuable new addition.
After a summer spent playing with the Melbourne Ice of the Australian Ice Hockey League, goaltender Alex Leclerc quickly showed what he can do upon arrival in Lloydminster. Leclerc’s first game in a Bobcat sweater was a 3-0 pre-season shutout victory over the Battlefords North Stars, and things continued to roll in the regular season. Leclerc didn’t suffer his first AJHL loss until November 6th, putting together a run of 12 straight wins to start the year. Like all good things, the streak had to come to an end, and the entire Bobcats team hit a bit of a lull heading into the last two months of the year.
Over the final 15 games of 2015, the ‘Cats pace slowed to 8-5-2. However, this didn’t prevent four players from being invited to Hockey Canada’s selection camp for Team Canada West ahead of the 2015 World Jr. A Challenge. Bauld and Van Tetering were both selected to the team, while Josefchak and Tschumi returned to the Bobcats after getting the experience of skating with some of the top Junior A players in Western Canada.
At the tournament, which took place in Cobourg and Whitby, Ontario from December 13th to 20th, Bauld (2 goals) and Van Tetering (1 assist) each played a key role as Canada West went undefeated through the tournament, ultimately winning a gold medal in a 2-1 victory over Russia on national television. While those two were celebrating their championship, the Bobcats were in the midst of an impressive road trip through southern Alberta.
Coming into the final road swing before the break on a run of three games without a win, the ‘Cats knocked off the Olds Grizzlys, Canmore Eagles, and Calgary Mustangs within a span of approximately 44 hours, all while extremely shorthanded. The ‘Cats had 13 regular skaters available for the first two games, and 14 when Van Tetering returned for the final game. Affiliated players provided support in two of the contests, but against the Eagles there were only 13 skaters dressed, just meeting the minimum requirement of the league.
It took a complete team effort to complete the weekend sweep, but Bobcats forward Taylor Allan was recognized on December 21st with AJHL Player of the Week honours after scoring five goals and adding two assists in four games. This was the first time a ‘Cat has received the award this season. Also of note, forward Zac Giroux will now carry a six-game goal scoring streak into 2016, the longest current streak in the league. Meanwhile, Kevin Darrar has picked up an assist in his last five games, which is also the longest current streak of its kind.
2015 has also been a significant year in terms of turning players over to play NCAA Division I Hockey. In October, Bauld committed to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, becoming the eighth player on this year’s team to secure a Division I commitment, the highest total in franchise history. The other commitments are: Darrar (Holy Cross), Josefchak (Colorado College), Christian Lloyd (Sacred Heart), Alex Pernitsky (Colorado College), Nick Quillan (Colgate), Tschumi (Colgate), and Van Tetering (Alaska-Fairbanks).
Heading into 2016, the Bobcats sit in third place in the AJHL’s North Division with 56 points. Looking at winning percentage, the ‘Cats slide up to second, and third across the league. With some injury luck and the continuing progress of a team that’s finding its way, 2016 should be a year to remember for Junior A hockey fans in Lloydminster.