Recaps by Shane.
Coming in to Saturday evening the Bobcats and Crusaders had traded wins. With the visiting Cru winning Friday night in Kitscoty one could expect the Bobcats to be the victors Saturday night when they were back in the Civic Centre. Spoiler alert they were not.
The first positive on the evening was that the Bobcats would in fact play in front of a crowd at the Civic Centre for the first time in what felt like forever. While still grateful to the teams hosts in Kitscoty Nigel Dube was pleased to be back home, “Crazy to think it was our seventh skate in the Civic since August. Guys are excited to be back and its fun to be in a rink with so much character. Seems like forever and a day so I know the guys are pumped to be back”. Restrictions surrounding Covid-19 regulations are constantly changing and evolving and they have softened to the point where the CCC is a viable option again for Jr Hockey – though with limited crowds. The crowd was at capacity with 100 fans in attendance, a sell out that was accomplished almost immediately after opening for the match. The look, sound and feel of those 100 compared to the usual atmosphere in the border city was almost sobering, if not for the simple exciting fact that hockey was again being played in the Civic.
One would wonder how the players would respond in a bigger building with a small crowd. If the lack of atmosphere would have a negative impact on the game at hand, it did not. Both teams came out looking hungry for the game 4 win. From the onset chances were created at both ends. The physical play from the night before in Kitscoty would continue as one would expect after 3 straight games in the same competitive bubble. Friday night there was a good deal of “jawing” at stoppages, and as periods ended. That would carry over into Saturday. 37 minutes into the game that simmering tension would boil over. Still scoreless in the game and the disdain between the two teams growing shift in and shift out Ben Bygrove and Auston McNelly would engage in a good old fashioned punch out. The two willing challengers would exchange a series of right hands in a tilt that looked like something from the 80s or 90s. I would tend to call that one a draw as neither combatant really would take the win from the other. With no clear winner both teams would claim themselves the victor and would receive a bit of a spark. Just one more sign at how even these two teams have been matched thus far.
In fact things would stay very even until just 1:17 remained when Cale Ashcrofts shot from the high slot would slide under Axel Rosenlund for the lone goal on the evening. From the media booth it looked like the shot may have hit a stick or skate enroute to the Eden Prairie, MN native but the video evidence was inconclusive. A game doesn’t get much closer than 1-0 and coach Dube was pleased with the effort from his team, “If you were in the rink or watching it online I don’t think you would believe we are in an exhibition season for how the games have went and continue to go in this series. A hard fought battle tonight”.
In the office season the Cats made a few transactions in a continued effort to improve the team. In July, Ryan Nause and Alex Danis were traded to the MJHL in exchange for Nathan Carl. A small bodied forward Carl put up 46 points for the Swan Valley Stampeders last season. The bigger ice surface at the civic maybe provided a better look at what the shifty centre is capable of with a bit more space. “Nathan plays with a lot of confidence and is really slippery down low. He’s picked it up a notch since the first set of games and is playing like a 20 year old. His offensive threat is there and he’s a versatile player”, commented coach Dube on the off season acquisition.
Overall even in a loss it was easy to see a number of positives for a team that finished last in the division facing a team that spent much of last season as the top team in the country. Nigel Dube was happy with the first 4 games but certainly not content. On holding the Crusaders to just 10 goals in 4 games – ” Sherwood Park has been in the top of our division the last few years and we continue to grow as a program from a complete rebuild. We’ve taken the right steps, I don’t think anyone in our room is satisfied with the results this weekend and we are a hungry group. There isn’t a mindset that these are exhibition games.”
The Bobcats and Crusaders will continue their Exhibition Cohort series the 23rd and 24th when they will split a home and home between Sherwood Park and Lloydminster respectively. Both games will be available on Hockey TV. Tickets for the Lloydminster match up will be available early this week.