By Shane Tomayer
When the going gets tough the tough get going as they say. That was certainly the case for the Lloydminster Bobcats Tuesday evening at the Civic Centre facing the Spruce Grove Saints who sit atop the AJHL North Division. Two key 20 year olds were injured and known to be out of the line up when the morning roster was drawn up. Late in the afternoon it became apparent that Ben Bygrove would join Tyson Kowaluk and Ryan Schendel on the list of players unable to play. Three players all part of the team’s leadership group out of the line up is a heavy burden for any team to carry. However the Cats would strap on their work boots and carry the load, perhaps beyond expectation.
Players would need to step up and play in rolls they may not normally fill. Local U18 Bobcat affiliate Jaxon Hopko would also get the late call, forgo any typical pregame routines and join the Jr A squad.
Ultimately the game would end in a 3-1 loss to the Saints after an empty net goal against, with just over 1 minute left in regulation. However one could easily see beyond the scoreboard and admire the effort put forward and the level of compete, against an exceptionally strong Saints club, who have lost just 7 times in regulation this season. It’s not often a loss in the record books could also be regarded as a win by the coaching staff. But a full 60 minute effort showed far more positives than negatives – final score be damned.
Nigel Dube was happy as a head coach could be after a loss, “At the end of the day it was a heck of a junior hockey game. We competed hard for the entire game and with the players we had out others stepped up in a big way”.
A coach could certainly be nervous adding an affiliate (Hopko) late in the day, with the need to fill the sudden void of captain Ben Bygrove. However the young defender stepped up earlier and quelled any room for concern, “Hops did a great job, he got thrown in at the last minute and played a lot. He looked good out there.” While final records don’t reflect it, it was Hopkos efforts in the defensive zone that started the break out leading to the home side’s lone goal off the stick of Kade Fendelet (5) – assists to Burke and Olson.
Bygrove of course was not the only key defender out of the lineup with Tyson Kowaluk getting injured after a check from behind on Friday night in Grande Prairie, which saw the Robert Pizzey of the Storm receive a three game suspension from the league. Having two of your top four defenders out of the squad could create problems especially if others don’t increase their roll. Team defense was strong all game however, perhaps most notable was the play of two rookie defencemen in Carter Frankiw and Orin Olson. Both looked like seasoned veterans logging minutes well above their season average. It certainly reflected positively on the Bobcats blueline of the future. Regarding the impressive efforts of the young defence core Nigel Dube kept it simple, “We need guys to step up and our young guys have done a great job of that”.
Regardless of the injury situation the Bobcats season continues this weekend when the Cats face off in a home and home against the Pontiacs who sit 4th in the North Division. Friday night in Bonnyville and Saturday at the CCC. Puck drop for both games is 7:00.