Bobcats finish first exhibtion series with Sherwood Park
More often than not time will allow perspective to kick in and you can look back and see things differently than when they were viewed live. It may take a bit more time for several Bobcats players, coaches and fans after Saturday nights 5-4 loss to the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
Backing up to their game Friday the first period essentially just happened. No penalties, no goals, really nothing of substance. Saturday night was different as the Crusaders came to play and jumped out to set the tone and essentially dictate the first period. They would open up the shot clock early and really maintained pressure through the bulk of the period outshooting the cats 10-4 through the first 20 and scoring once at the midway point of the frame. The opening period would also provide a little bit of foreshadowing for things to come as the Cats would spend a good bit of time in the penalty box with Carper receiving a double minor for spearing – an occurrence that had many in attendance groaning in disbelief. A penalty that would see the home side PK shine for the first time on the evening. It would not be the last as a series of penalties late in the period would result in Sherwood Park receiving their first 5 on 3 of the game, something that would happen four more times before the end of regulation play.
The Bobcats started the second period finishing off the late 5 on 3 with Cole Jungwirth, Gunner Kinniburgh and Tyler Schendel taking the opening face off. They would stay on ice for just over a minute and would combine to block 5 shots while down 2 players. This was a tone setter for the squad. Ultimately the penalty would be killed and the Cats would go on to even the score on the power play just over 7 minutes in when a point shot would come out from behind the net and land right on the stick of Schendel (Kinniburgh and Miller with assists) to even the score. The two teams would trade goals back and forth through the rest of the period and the Bobcats would go short handed 2 more times to close out the middle frame at a 3-2 deficit.
The final frame got…. interesting. Through to the middle of the final period the Bobcats would take 5 unanswered penalties which would result in four 5 on 3 advantages of varying lengths for the visitors. Included in that was a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct after emotions boiled over for coach Nigel Dube, who explained “I should apologize to the people who were there. My voice might have carried, with only 150 people in the Civic. I wasn’t happy with the officiating. 11 power plays and three or four (editors note: it was 5) 5 on 3’s. Ultimately I just didn’t think it was very good”. That avalanche of penalties (ultimately 8 in a row) would result in 2 power play goals for Connor Hart for the Crusaders and bring them to a 2 goal lead late in the period.
9:53 into the 3rd Ethan Aucoin was sprung by Kinniburgh and would cross the blueline alone and ultimately bring the Cats back within one. This would sit as his third point of the evening and his team leading 7th point in his first 6 games. Dube had high praise for the Bobcats rookie acquisition, “Ethan has an ultimate love for the game and he brings a positive mindset to the rink every day. He wants his teammates to succeed as much as he wants to. He has confidence with the puck, expectations are for him to create offense and he has done so. He’s a team first guy.”
While a frustrating loss, when you look at the slow start and the time spent short handed, there were still many positives to be had. In a game such as this the Bobcats have (in the past) dug themselves a hole, which would seemingly fall in around and smother them. That was not the case as the home side continued to work until the final buzzer. Coach Dube recapped, “we have a no quit mentality. We identified that we needed to be better after the first and guys went out and got into it. Emotions ran high with officiating and I think it gave guys an extra boost at times. Our PK from where we started 3 weeks ago has come a long way. Our PK to start the second period showed how guys are committed with the blocks and sacrificing of the body.”
Bobcats next action is upcoming but unknown when. The league will be meeting this week to discuss the season ahead and what steps will be taken. There does seem to be some belief that a regular season is on the horizon which is obviously a positive. One of the biggest hurdles will be allowable attendance numbers as the provinces continue to evolve protocols surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Stay tuned to Bobcat and AJHL social media for updates as details are announced.