Spruce Grove Saints vs Lloydminster Bobcats Friday, September 25th, 2021
Written by: Tyler Campbell
Friday night at the Centennial Civic Centre, the Lloydminster Bobcats trailed the powerhouse Spruce Grove Saints 5-2 after 40 minutes of play. After two hard fought losses to the Bonnyville Pontiacs on the opening weekend of the 21-22 AJHL season, followed by a 9-2 defeat to the Saints on Wednesday, it would have been understandable for the Cats to call it a night and look towards Saturday (once again, facing the Saints back in Spruce Grove). After all, it’s not as if they were playing weaker teams to begin the season. The Pontiacs and the Saints are two of the most consistent organizations in the league. Call it a night, better days ahead”¦right? The Bobcats though, they didn’t see things that way.
The opening frame was good back and forth hockey. Bobcats goaltender Axel Rosenlund (not the last time his name will be mentioned) came up with a big save as Saints star Caiden Gault had a short handed breakaway. Who knows how different the game could have been had Rosenlund not come up big at that point? That save led to the icebreaker as shortly after Matthew Swanson found Tanner Fincaryk to give the Cats a 1-0 lead and that score would hold through 20 minutes of play.
The 2nd period saw the game seemingly get away from the Cats however. They got away from their structure and were more willing to trade chances with the Saints, and it cost them. Luigi Benincassa got it evened up for the Saints, short-handed no less, just 3:42 into the period. The Cats did strike back just as that penalty expired as they got a fortunate bounce off the glass and Mack Stewart was Johnny on the spot to reclaim the one goal lead. It seemed as though that would kill the momentum the Saints had been building, but they kept coming”¦in a big way. Less than two minutes after the Stewart goal, the Saints would rattle off 4 goals in just 2:12 (3 in 43 seconds) to turn a 2-1 Bobcats lead into a 5-2 Saints lead. The Bobcats looked shell shocked. They were able to get things back under control in the last half of the 2nd period, but the damage had been done. 5-2 Saints, and things looked pretty bleak going into the 3rd.
There was no doubt that the key to the Cats mounting any kind of rally would be an early 3rd period goal, and just 2:33 in, Zafir Rawji did just that. You could feel that the Bobcats had some life. There was juice on the bench, a buzz in the building again. Perhaps the turning point of the however didn’t’ come until 13:13 of the period as after a scramble face-off eventually won by the Cats, the puck was knocked back to the point where Ben Bygrove took was seemed to be an innocent looking shot just intending to get it towards the goal and make something happen. This puck had eyes though as it made it’s way through several sticks and skates before perfectly finding the five hole of Saints starting goaltender Max Beckford to make it a one goal game. After that goal, there was more than just juice on the bench and a buzz in the building, it was a title wave of momentum that had clearly shifted in the Bobcats favour. The Saints pushed back hard after the Bygrove goal and put together some good shifts, but the Cats had serious life. Just two minutes after the Bygrove goal, fellow defencemen Teegan Skehar wanted a piece of the action as the Cats simply looking to get the puck in deep had it take a fortunate hop off the glass. Skehar was the only player on the ice who read it as he jumped up in the play and took a wrister from the high slot that beat Beckford, and it was all knotted up at 5!
Regulation settled nothing, so it was off to OT. The Cats opened the overtime with 1:28 left in a man advantage but were unable to capitalize. Then the Saints had their turn with the man advantage, but they were unsuccessful as well. The Cats got yet another opportunity, but the Saints not only escaped, but had a 2 on 1 that nearly ended the game. Axel Rosenlund robbed Saints forward Jayden Davis. Easily the save of the game”¦at that point. In the final minute of OT with the two clubs now at even strength, the Saints looked to end up. The Cats were hemmed in, but doing a good job keeping the Saints to the outside. Then with just six seconds to go, the Saints found daylight with a cross crease pass but Axel Rosenlund saved the day again for the Bobcats to send it to the shootout.
Through two rounds of the shootout, neither team could cash in. The Saints sent Brent Pfoh out as their third shooter, but at this point I’m not sure anyone was beating Rosenlund with how in the zone he was as he turned Pfoh away to setup Ethan Aucoin with the opportunity to complete the comeback and win the game for the Cats. Likely the best pure shooter the Cats have with the game on his stick coming in on Beckford and he made no mistake firing a bullet low glove side, and the Bobcats skated away with their first win of the season in dramatic fashion!
Bobcats head coach Nigel Dube had these thoughts following the victory:
“We chatted about our second period. Our group was well aware of when we went away from the game plan it gave them life and opportunity. I’m proud of this group. It just shows the character and family we have in that room. Most people likely counted us out, but the guys in that room kept to it.”
Dube went onto add something very special to those comments, something that everyone in the community would agree with. “One thing is for sure tonight…Trouper would be proud of his boys!” Without a doubt, he was watching, and he is proud of his boys!