By Shane Tomayer
The Lloydminster Bobcats went into the second weekend of 2023 ready to play what now would be the two biggest games of their season. The Cats would face off twice on home ice against the Drayton Valley Thunder who sat just outside the playoff line and just back of the Bobcats in the standings. With the CJHL trade deadline now in the rear view mirror this would be the first chance for Lloydminster fans to see what will stand as the final line up for the 22/23 season.
With the weight of the two games ahead it was evident early that the orange and black had prepared and were ready. The tone during pregame prep and into warm up was electric, the buzz around the club was palpable, a bright sign after a tough loss Wednesday in Spruce Grove. That would carry right through the game. It took over 14 minutes into period one for the scoring columns to see any ink but once it started it seemed relentless. Scoring opened with a good play in the defensive zone and a strong breakout through the neutral zone, it ended with Ishan Mittoo firing a shot off a defenders stick, off the end wall, off the goalie and into the back of the Drayton Valley goal. Too much of the season has been plagued by these bounces going against the Bobcats, it was good to see one going the other way. Over a three minute span the Cats would score 3 more times to wrap up the first period ahead 4-0 and there would be no looking back. The home side added 3 more in the second period and gave up one in the third to close out game one 7-1.
Prior to game 2 the Bobcats were effective in managing their emotions. One has to manage the highs as much as the lows and the Bobcats knew that they would be in for a tougher match in the second contest. Pregame Jayven Leslie said clearly and confidently, “I’m ready, we’re taking both games”. Ready may have been an understatement for the border city born forward. Midway through the first he started the scoring when we bullied his way to the front of the opposing goal from the corner and opened the scoring on the powerplay. He added another 6 minutes later before picking up two assists in the second period.
The Thunder put forth a better effort in the second period bringing the score within one 6 minutes into the middle frame but the Cats stepped on the gas again and locked down their second win of the weekend with a 7-3 decision. Another great team effort in all three zones highlighted by Leslies 4 point performance and a hat trick by team goal leader Brock Krulicki who now has 21 goals in his 33 games as a Bobcat.
Coach Nigel Dube was understandably pleased with the weekend results. “I thought it was a couple of good nights, of hitting our keys as a group to be successful. We’ve seen a lot of growth since Christmas and that was very evident. Guys were rewarded for their work with some nice goals and a good 200′ game.”
Dube is not one to key on individual efforts but there were a couple standouts. First of all Jayven Leslie with a 6 point weekend. “We had different guys step up at different points, I really thought Lester really drove our offense to get things going and he was rewarded for his work, it also made out group better”.
Wellesly Ontarios Brock Krulicki had a strong weekend with 5 points including his first AJHL hat trick. His five points moved him into second in team scoring with 30 points.
Another player who hasn’t received a great deal of accolade to this point in the season is goaltender Matthew Syverson. He backstopped both games on the weekend combining for 56 saves between the two games for a .920 save percentage on the weekend. Dube commented, “Matty has made some key saves since the break at opportune times, he’s been giving us key saves at key times.” Syverson on the weekend looked to have a new level of calm and confidence something the squad in front of him can certainly build off of.
Final key for the Bobcats on the weekend was their special teams. They made the most of their time with the extra attacker scoring on 3 of their 6 powerplay opportunities. They also stymied the AJHL North divisions third best powerplay. The PK allowed just 1 power play goal against on the weekend for a success rate of 88%.
The teams success over the two game home stand pushed them to tie Grande Prairie for 6th in North division points while opening the gap between themselves and Drayton Valley who have played 2 more games than the Cats to this point.
The Bobcats will look to build on their recent offensive output, and special teams success as they hit the road for 5 games before returning to the Civic Centre on January 31. Next action finds them in Sherwood Park Wednesday night for a match up with the AJHL North divisions third place Crusaders.