The Bobcats hosted the Bonnyville Pontiacs Tuesday night, their first game in 7 days after playing 3 in 4 games. That 7 day break was more than welcome as the border city squad has battled some injury and illness.
After a hot start to the campaign the Cats had gone 1-3-1 in the last 5. Worth noting that in that stretch all 5 games were lost by a single goal. Having lost just one game at home thus far the hope was home cooking would be the answer to be back in the win column.
The opening period was very fast paced. The early going of the period saw the 2nd place (in the North) Pontiacs owning possession and heavily outshooting the home side. Slowly but surely the Bobcats – in their orange third jerseys – would work their way back and start to fire some pucks the other way. Largely on the play of Freddy Halyk the Cats and Pontiacs would end the first tied. The Pontiacs were credited with 11 shots on the home side goalie who played to perfection keeping the home side in the game early.
The Pontiacs started the scoring early in the second period, but the Bobcats would not relent. The Cats would be awarded a power play chance to even the score but would not capitalize. Then with 7:23 gone in the period and playing short handed the Bobcats would even things up on an impressive individual effort by Ryan Schendel. From his own blue line Schendel muscled his way up the left wing before cutting towards the goal with defenders unable to move him. He would not be denied as he would eventually put the puck past Bodee Weiss to erase the goal deficit. It’s the type of effort any coach likes to see. Nigel Dube noted, “Schendel had a big effort on the short handed goal. He used his big frame and created separation with a nice finish. It was a big turn in the game.”
Just under 6 minutes later with the man advantage Matthew Swanson would score his second of the season off passing from the defensive pairing of Bygrove and Parker. Swanson would add his third on the season under 5 minutes into the third period pouncing on a loose puck in front of the Pontiac goal to create a 2 goal cushion for the men in orange.
With just over two minutes left (in regulation) the Pontiacs would empty their net for the extra attacker. It paid off, not once but twice and with 36 seconds remaining in regulation the score would run even again at 3 a side. Four of the Bobcats first 8 games had required extra time to decide. So certainly not unfamiliar territory.
Overtime was more of the same. Very up tempo. Good chances at both ends of the rink. Halyk was strong again making key saves giving the crew in front of him a chance. 2:23 into the extra the Pontiacs were called for tripping, giving the home team a rare extra attacker in overtime. 81 seconds later that power play opportunity would be nullified when Jayven Leslie was sent to the penalty box for holding. Quick math tells you that the Pontiacs would end up with a man advantage of their own before the extra frame would close.
Pontiacs bench boss Mario Pouliot called what seemed like a timely line change. Atwill would be out of the penalty box in seconds and they would have the extra man. What Pouliot had not planned for was what happened next. Tyson Kowaluk caused a turnover in the Bobcats end and would seemingly slow play the puck back up the ice. Pontiacs bench continued with the line change with the puck in the Cats zone. But what they didn’t see was the newest Bobcat Brock Krulicki at the far blueline.
With clear possession and a nearly open neutral zone Kowaluk turned up ice and quickly spotted Krulicki alone up ice. A quick pass had the new centre 15 feet from any defender and in all alone, where he would make no mistake. Krulicki scored what will stand as his first as a Lloydminster Bobcat in his first AJHL game, noted as short handed with Atwill having just left the box. Nigel Dube was obviously pleased when asked about the play of his newest acquisition, “Brock has been great since coming in last week. I think he will continue to get better as he learns the league as well. It was a big goal.”
Major part of the win was the Bobcats play in special teams situations. That stood for play both with and without the man advantage. Dube liked what he saw, “Special teams are huge. When you add short handed goals in it makes them even greater. We were on the right side of the puck on special teams all night.”
Even in a win it’s important to find learning points to continue to improve. Maybe easier to find those when the Cats had a two goal lead slip away late. Coach Dube was clear on what was to be gleaned from this match up, “A couple of missed assignments and we gave them life right at the end. We need to get better at closing games out. Simple as that”.
The Bobcats will hit the road for a pair of South Division games vs Blackfalds and Calgary Friday and Saturday. They will return to the Civic Centre Saturday the 22nd when they will play host to the South Division leading Brooks Bandits.