For the first time in six games, a streak dating back to November 12th, 2014, the Lloydminster Bobcats defeated the Spruce Grove Saints.
Coming into tonight’s matchup, the Saints were the undisputed number one team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, pacing the province with ten straight wins to open the 2015-16 season. For the Bobcats, the excitement of a 7-0 start had been tempered by a somewhat rocky 2-2 stretch over the past four games. However, the ‘Cats were quick to prove that they were ready to give the Saints a run tonight at the Grant Fuhr arena in Spruce Grove.
Just over seven minutes into the contest, the puck trickled back to the blue line on a failed breakout by the Saints, and Bobcats defenceman Nick Quillan quickly threw the puck towards the net. Waiting behind the Spruce Grove defenders was teammate Noah Bauld, who deflected the puck past goaltender Matthew Murray to give the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead.
Shortly after, Saints defenceman Cole Nicholson finished a check on Taylor Allan moments after the Bobcats forward touched the puck up offside to draw a whistle. A scrum ensued, but Nicholson was assessed an extra two minutes for roughing and the ‘Cats found themselves on the powerplay. Coming into the game, the Bobcats powerplay was performing at a mediocre 16.3 per cent on the season.
On this man advantage situation, the ‘Cats were able to break through for the second time in the opening ten minutes, with Morgan Messenger finding a rebound off of Murray and hitting the back of the net to make it 2-0 Bobcats just 9:16 into the game. But as you would expect from the top team in the league, the Saints began to push back.
On an offensive zone draw, Saints centre Ryan Cox pulled it back to defenceman Shaun Dosanjhe who put a shot on net through traffic. Alex Leclerc was ready in the Bobcats goal with a save, but the rebound ended up on the stick of Colton Leiter who put it away to cut the Bobcats lead in half. The Saints would continue to push, but the Lloydminster side maintained their one-goal lead into the intermission. Shots on goal after one period were 12-5 for Spruce Grove despite a strong start to the period by the ‘Cats.
In the second, the Saints continued to push, and were rewarded a second time just past the midway point on the powerplay as Tyler Busch found Riley Simpson for a one-timer in the high slot that was stopped by Leclerc, but Brandon Biro pounced on the rebound to draw the game even at 2-2.
Minutes later, the ‘Cats caught a break as rookie forward Josh Giacomin recovered a puck in the offensive zone near the bottom of the circle, and quickly fired it from a sharp angle towards the net. With traffic in front of Murray, the puck somehow found its way into the Saints goal, giving Giacomin his second goal of the year and the Bobcats the lead once again.
However, it would be short-lived as Leiter struck back with his second goal of the game, nearly identical to his first one of the night, only with this one coming at the opposite end of the rink. The assists on Leiter’s goal again went to Dosanjhe and Cox in the same sequence as the first-period goal. With the game knotted at three, the teams headed into the final frame.
Nearly five minutes into the third period, Bobcats defenceman Nick Quillan was checked from behind by Saints forward Jack Hamly, ending Hamly’s night and putting the ‘Cats on the powerplay for a third time. To that point, the ‘Cats were one for two with the man advantage.
After Tyler Busch rushed up ice shorthanded for the Saints, ringing the puck off the post, the Bobcats scooped up and headed the other way on an odd-man rush. The puck found Taylor Allan on the left side of the ice, and Allan slid towards the middle for a cleaner shot before slipping the puck past Murray with a glove-side shot. The Bobcats powerplay would finish the night two for three, and Allan’s marker was his team’s third go-ahead goal of the game.
Just over a minute later, Murray attempted to send a long pass down the ice, but hit his own player in the back with the puck, keeping it in the zone. In the ensuing chaos, Kevin Darrar scooped up the puck and walked in alone on Murray before beating him in a similar location to Allan, giving the ‘Cats a 5-3 lead with 12:46 left to play.
Late in the third, with Murray on the bench for an extra Saints attacker, Morgan Messenger took a swing at a loose puck to clear the zone, clipping a Spruce Grove player on his follow through. Messenger was given a minor penalty for high-sticking, and the Saints only needed 19 seconds to bring the game back within one, as Jake Mykitiuk stepped into a slapshot from the top of the circle, sending it through traffic and past Leclerc.
Over the final 1:56 of the third, the Saints were able to direct the puck towards the Bobcats goal several times, but it was kept out and the ‘Cats held on for a 5-4 victory.
For the Saints, the loss was their first of the season, dropping their record to 10-1. The Bobcats now sit just behind Spruce Grove in the AJHL North Division at 10-2.
The Border City Boys are now off for Thanksgiving weekend, with the next game scheduled for Wednesday, October 14th at the Civic Centre against Sherwood Park.