By Shane Tomayer
The Bobcats organization played host to 20 player families this past weekend. Something done annually to solidify the bond of the group and give players a chance to visit with loved ones prior to the end of the regular season. It’s a weekend that serves to re-vitalize players down the stretch and allow the organization to pay respect to sacrifices made by families trusting their young athletes with the city of Lloydminster and the Bobcats organization. Side benefit is that players often have a little boost being able to play in front of their families, for some it could be the first time in months. For Brock Krulicki (Wellesley, ON) who celebrated his birthday Friday it was the first time he’d spent his birthday with his parents in a few years as he’s traveled across Canada chasing his hockey dream. Families traveled from as far as Moncton, NB to take in hockey action against a pair of South Division clubs with Calgary Saturday night and a matinee versus Olds on Sunday. The trip was worth it.
Calgary came into the Civic Centre Saturday riding a 5 game losing streak dating back to January 28, hungry to climb the standings just behind Canmore in their division. The Bobcats would start the scoring off but by the midway point of the second period they trailed 4-2. A scrappy effort saw the Cats come back and regain control of the game in the third period when Jayven Leslie evened the score at 4. The Canucks would take the lead again with under 10 minutes to go but two third period goals by Mathew Swanson would ice the cake as the home side held on for the victory – even though the Canucks pulled their goalie and played nearly 3 minutes with the extra attacker.
Saturday evening the team and families got together and briefly celebrated the win before it was time to re-focus on the challenge ahead Sunday afternoon. The Grizzlys arrived in Lloydminster after a loss Saturday night in Bonnyville and a win Friday night in Fort McMurray. Wins have not come easy to the Olds club sitting at the bottom of the South Division, but a desperate team can be a very dangerous thing. They played the Cats well in a physical match up.
Ben Aucoin opened the scoring for the Bobcats on the power play, his third of the weekend and 12th of his rookie season. The visitors then answered that three times over and again the Cats would find themselves trailing going into the third. With the way the game had been played to this point the Cats knew they needed an extra gear to close out the weekend with four points. They found it.
In the 3rd the Cats locked down defensively and poured on the offense. They allowed just two shots on goal while firing 23 on Marcus Cumberworth at the other end. Tyson Kowaluk brought the club within one late in the game and Jayven Leslie scored his 16th of the season with just over a minute to go and force overtime. The extra period solved nothing and so the shootout would stand as the deciding factor.
The Bobcats shot first, and scored on two of three chances (Swanson and Aucoin) putting the weight onto Olds’ Niklas Gudmundson to keep the shootout going, and on Matthew Syverson to make the stop and seal the win. The right handed shot made a good move as he shifted back to the forehand on the right side of the crease but Syverson threw out his left pad and claimed victory for the home side.
Nigel Dube commented before the game Saturday night (a little tongue in cheek) stating that he wasn’t concerned about how the team played on the weekend but that 4 points was what mattered most. After the pair of wins he was happy with the result but commented on some inconsistency, “I think we saw 4 different versions of our team to get the 4 points and we continue to learn about our group on many different levels”.
One constant for the Bobcats all season long has been the play of Jayven Leslie. It seems any time the squad is in a crunch he’s the first player to step up and push to be a difference maker. On the weekend he had 2 goals (16 on the season) and an assist. Dube commented on the assistant captain, “he was a driving force on the ice and on our bench as a leader. We challenged our leaders to lead and he did that as well as scoring big goals to make it happen. His actions were evident, he’s a leader”.
As any season in junior hockey starts to wind down you have to look forward and wonder who will be the next wave of players to step up. It’s a simple fact that the window for Jr Hockey is not a big one and you can’t keep elite offensive players like Matthew Swanson or Brock Krulicki for too long. When looking at the roster and asking “who’s next?” the question may have just been answered this past weekend by the play of Ben Aucoin. The rookie forward had 25 points coming into the weekend before picking up 3 goals and two assists (plus a shootout goal) on family weekend, with his father having traveled over 4300km to watch him play. Perhaps having his dad in attendance was a boost needed, or maybe he’s finding his stride right before playoffs – he does have 9 points in his last 8 games. Again keeping things light when asked about the rookies play over the weekend Dube kept it simple, “We might have to bring his dad out every weekend if he plays like that”.
The weekend success pushed the Cats 4 points ahead of the Grande Prairie Storm and into sole possession of the 6th seed in the AJHL North Division. Next action for the Border City club comes Tuesday the 14th when the Bobcats will forgo exchanging valentines with the Oil Barons in exchange for what will certainly be a hard fought contest at the Civic Centre, puck drop is at 7:00, stay tuned to the teams social media for drink and food specials.