Wild Wild Weekend
Written by Shane Tomayer
Bralin Technology Goal Highlights –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-obAyYTz6Wc
The Bobcats schedule for this past weekend was set to be a challenge prior to the start of the season with Brooks and Okotoks making their way to the border city. The tough schedule got a little tougher when the rescheduled game was added to Friday evening – on the road in Whitecourt no less. To add to the weekend – but in positive fashion – was the fact that it was the teams parents weekend. Scheduled every year for around this time the Bobcats organization welcomed the families of the majority of its players to the city to enjoy a pair of home games. But first, Whitecourt.
With the Wolverines trailing the Cats in the standings by three points the team knew they would be in for a fight heading into the parkland region. After 40 minutes the road side was leading by a single goal with a pair of markers from blueliners Luke Busby and Jack Parker – happily scoring his first AJHL goal, and Freddie Halyk stopping 26 of 27. However the second half of the game saw the Bobcats make a steady trail to the penalty box. Special teams were effective as the Cats came out positive in 7 of 8 penalty kills but the grind that comes as a result of playing shorthanded would result in 3 Wolverine goals in the third and a 4-2 final. Coach Nigel Dube stayed back in Lloydminster to manage the annual ladies night so the bench was managed by Asst Coach/GM Carter Duffin and his father who he coached with during his time as a part of the Red Deer minor hockey program. A truly special moment that Duffin was proud to be a part of, “Dad and I coached together for half a dozen years with Red Deer minor hockey so its no strange event for us but it was still special. It would have been better to come away with a pair of points, but from a personal standpoint it was pretty neat for us to be coaching together again”. Stewart Duffin works with the Bobcats organization helping with scouting the central Alberta region.
With the loss behind them the Bobcats would hit the bus back to the border to prepare for a match up against AJHL perennial powerhouse and top team in the CJHL rankings, the Brooks Bandits. The Bandits having lost the night before in Sherwood Park would be hungry to get back in the win column. The Cats looking to do the same were traveling until late in the evening and would have to take on this challenge on short rest. One thing about this seasons version of the Bobcats is that they are built for adversity. They’ve shown they can run with the top clubs in the league and they would certainly put their best skate forward in a challenging contest. The Bandits came into Lloydminster with a 46-5-2 record, scoring on average more than 6 goals per game while allowing an average of just over 2. A tough combination of strong offense and stingy defense. After the first the Cats were toe to toe with the bandits trailing slightly on the shot clock but even at 1 where it counts. 3:31 into the second the team and fans erupted with joy as rookie forward Connor Burke regained the lead on a one-timer with a great feed from Hassan Akl. Dube commented on the reaction, “The crowd/team reaction and excitement showed just how much they enjoy watching this kid play and for him to get his first. His smile said it all”. Not long after the Mack Steward would grant the home side a two goal lead and the over 800 fans in attendance had the old barn vibrating.
Then three and a half minutes later trouble hit. Specifically trouble hit Kolby Thornton. A drive to the net took Thornton out of the play. From beneath an opposing player all he could do was watch as the Bandits came back within 1. The goal while controversial was allowed by the officials and the home side didn’t react well. Emotion and frustration were evident as the visitors would add 4 more goals over the next 5 minutes and close out the second period ahead 6-3. The Bobcats would add 2 more in the third but couldn’t match the pressure of the Bandits and would ultimately fall 10-5. Silver lining the Bobcats put up 5 goals against the countries top team. Something that’s only happened 3 other times this season. Truthfully the game that could have been worse, but the large crowd lifted the home side to keep pushing. Dube commented on the fans, “Our crowds continue to grow every game, I think Saturday was a highlight of the fans we have in the border city and the energy they bring to the CCC. It was an electric atmosphere our guys fed off of. It makes every game a special one, and Sundays crowd drove our guys in the third”.
*Readers please see the definition of foreshadowing.
Sunday would be the cats 3rd game in 43 hours with nearly 1000 km of windshield time mixed in. Facing off against a team 4th in the South Division with a lot of skill featuring a projected first round NHL draft pick in Rieger Lorenz. Add to that Lorenz and teammate Austin Reschny both have local ties. Reschny is from Macklin, while both of Lorenz’ parents are from Lloydminster and his father Terry is an alumni from the early 90’s Jr A Blazers. Meaning the Oilers would be bringing some fans of their own – though their fans were clearly outnumbered. After 40 minutes the Oilers were leading 2-0. It seemed that with puck control and smart hockey they could hold on for a road win. The Bobcat players and fans had other plans. 7 minutes into the third the Bobcats would find their way onto the score sheet when Matthew Swanson scored on the power play. 30 seconds later Mack Stewart would jump on a loose puck in the crease to even things up and the Civic Centre foundation was back to rattling. A powerplay in the final two minutes would end early as Ethan Aucoin finished a feed from Akl for his 32nd on the season to continue his streak of (now) 8 straight games with a point. Nigel Dube talked about his rookie scoring leader and the growth that has seen him put up 22 points in his last 15 games, “He’s found a 200′ game and prides himself as much defensively as offensively. We weren’t talking like that in September. Playing the game the right way pays off.”
Attendance Sunday was again above the season average with 484 people catching some great action prior to the Super Bowl. They were treated with the Cats 30th win of the season (by far) their highest total since 2015/16 when the city hosted the RBC Cup. On family weekend no less, clearly a factor in the play of the Cats. Dube commented on the family factor, “Its great to get all the families in town. Our guys have been grinding hard and its special to play in front of family. Its always a great weekend this time of year.”
Cherry on top for the weekend may have been the return of one of the teams assistant captains – defenseman Tyson Kowaluk. Kowaluk was sidelined back on November 24th when he took a check from behind and required surgery to repair a shoulder injury. Kowaluk was back in the line up ahead of schedule Dube attributed a lot of that to the work of the teams medical staff including the diligence of team trainer Taylor Smith. Asked about the first game back for the star player Dube was more than pleased, “It’s impressive, not just his game today but the work he put in over the last 3 months so that he could be out there today.” Kowaluk also talked about the early return and what made that possible, “Taylor mostly. She made sure I was on the ball in the gym and doing my rehab all the time. Nigel kept pushing me every day and staying positive also.” On the importance of his return coming this weekend with family in the stands, “My parents were there with me the whole time, staying positive and telling me everything’s going to be alright. They’re really excited, my dad was itching all day. He’s got a great personality and he’s always upbeat. It’s great to have them here for this”.
The Bobcats get a few days off before their next action. Friday (18th) and Saturday (19th) the Cats will benefit from home cooking and Civic Centre atmosphere for a pair of games against North Division rival Grande Prairie Storm. Puck drop on both games is 7:30.