Bobcats beat Canucks in OT to Open Season!
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By Shane Tomayer
For the first time in… possibly team history, the Lloydminster Bobcats started their season Friday night against a team from South of Highway 14. With the AJHL opting for a fully interlocked schedule for the 23/24 campaign, that means there is no North or South Divisions to base the schedule around. And so the Cats started the new season against the Calgary Canucks for the first time.
The pace was fast from the opening drop. Both sides came to the ice like thoroughbreds who’d been kept in a stall too long. The home side made the most of it early as newly crowned captain Caden Cabana drove to the front of the goal received a pass from sophomore winger Ben Aucoin and guided it to the back of the opposition net to open the scoring.
Being the pace was so up-tempo and scoring started just beyond the opening minute of play fans wouldn’t have been off base to assume that it could/would be a high scoring affair. They would however be wrong. The pace did not relent, but neither did the goaltending.
Goalies at both ends of the rink put on a performance that kept fans captivated and cheering. Numerous times it seemed that the Canucks would even things but Jack Solomon was electric in the home goal. At the other end of the rink Julian Molinaro kept the Canucks in the game preventing the Bobcats from extending their lead.
It was inside the final 5 minutes of regulation play that the visiting squad was able to even up the score when shot from the top of the circle seemed to have eyes as it found its way passed Lloydminsters rookie goaltender. The remaining 4 minutes and 5 seconds would solve nothing, and for the season opener fans would be treated to overtime.
The tempo in overtime was consistent with the rest of the match with chances at both ends of the Civic Centre. Then with under 2 minutes left in the extra frame the Canucks captain would be penalized for hooking – putting the home side to the man advantage for likely the balance of OT. With the extra attacker the Cats powerplay went to work 4 on 3. They maintained strong possession and created an opening for Ben Aucoin on the left side. He settled a pass from MacGillvray, paused for a fraction of a second and released what would be his first of the season and the game winning goal.
The win meant Brad Rihela starts off his AJHL coaching career with a win, when asked how good it felt to get the first one under his belt on opening night credit went to the players. “It’s really good. I’m really happy for the guys. A lot of commitment, a lot of sacrifice went into it. Obviously there’s things we need to shore up, but I’m really happy with the way they competed buzzer to buzzer.”
Stealing the show in the opener was the play of Jack Solomon from St. Louis Missouri. Solomon came to Lloydminster hoping to have a spot along side Matthew Syverson. That changed when prior to the start of the exhibition season Syverson was granted a division 1 scholarship to Linendwood University, handing Solomon a golden opportunity to be the number one guy in Lloydminster.
Solomon made a real case for himself Friday night and coach Rihela sang his praise, “Obviously I loved what he did tonight. I’m super proud of him, he’s a great kid and he deserves all the credit.” Solomon ultimately made 34 saves on 35 shots to kickstart his AJHL career. Fans at the CCC were on the edge of their seats watching him put on a clinic. It was the kind of night where the puck seemed to just find the goalie. There were saves where the St Louis product looked like he may have been as shocked as anyone. When asked about the experience and what could possibly make it better than winning his first start in overtime he kept things very tongue in cheek, “Obviously stopping that one shot that got in, it’s really the only thing that could have gone better”. Well that certainly would have been better, but then the fans wouldn’t have got overtime.
Bobcats will keep the season going Saturday night at the Civic Centre when they take on the Drumheller Dragons – coming off a Friday night win against the Pontiacs