Bobcats win Game 2 in Shootout over Whitecourt
by Shane Tomayer
Goal Highlights: https://youtu.be/7KJRLoUD7kU
Back to back wins to open a season have been elusive for the Lloydminster Bobcats. In fact since becoming the Bobcats in 2005 this is something they’ve only accomplished twice. An overtime win Friday night against Whitecourt meant that at the very least it would be possible. Saturday night was the second of a two game set against their North division rivals, the Bobcats were fully aware they were in for stiff competition.
Whitecourt took control early on Saturday. The Bobcats were forced to the defensive and caught chasing the play rather than dictating it early on, it resulted in a goal against less than a minute into the opening frame. The home side adjusted well and began turning the momentum in their favor. 7 minutes into the period the Wolverines would tempt fate by taking a penalty. The Cats power play scored twice Friday and would have a chance to continue to build. 1:27 into the man advantage Leslie worked below the goal line and found rookie Ben Aucoin alone in front. Aucoin let no time waste getting the shot off and made it a 1-1 game scoring his first AJHL goal. Veterans Borysiuk (pp) and Swanson would follow suit making for a 3-1 lead going into the first intermission.
A quarter into the second period rookie Rylan Ringor would add another power play goal, his second goal of the opening weekend. With a 4-1 lead things looked to be rolling down easy street for the home side. 26 minutes into the game it seemed as though the game was maybe locked down, as the Wolverines reacted with a goaltending change. Cue the ominous music.
In the dying moments of the second period the Wolverines would make it a 4-2 hockey game on a shot from the bottom of the face off circle. Halyk had a piece of the shot but not enough to keep it from the back of the goal. 2 minutes into the third suddenly it was a 1 goal game and the Cats were on their heels, looking to re-gain the two goal cushion. It wouldn’t come. With just over 4 minutes to play it was 4-4 and the Civic Centre had fallen quiet.
Regulation would not be enough, and so it was off to overtime for the second straight night. Friday’s overtime was full of question marks and missed opportunities before the Bobcats capitalized with 1:06 to go. Saturday was much more clean. Much more calculated for both sides. Again chances at both ends but Halyk in the Lloyd net and Mills 200′ away stood tall in their nets for the full 5:00 extra perio. , Bring on the shootout.
Debate all you want the validity of deciding games by shoot out. A team sport determined by an individual act. It’s been debated for a discussed and disagreed upon for a decade now, but the electricity that filled the CCC as Shawn Martin and Nigel Dube selected their first 3 shooters was palpable. Right or wrong for deciding a games outcome, it sure is fun to watch.
The Wolverines shot first, a move to the front of the net but the Bobcat goaltender was confident and composed, and a gutsy poke check from Halyk set the tone. Leslie made a nice move on the Cats first attempt but Mills would make the stop as well. Back the other way a quality move was made to try and foil Halyk but with shades of Johnny Bower the Cats backstop would throw out another poke check and take away the opportunity. Rookie Ben Aucoin already recognized for his sneaky release and early confidence would shoot second. There was no wide swooping move, it was straight up main street for the Moncton NB product. From just below the hash marks he snapped a very quick wrist shot passed Mills to put the pressure on Whitecourts potentially final shooter. Caleb MacDonald who’d been one of the better Wolverines all game would go wide right. Having watched the first two attempts he would not allow Halyk the opportunity for another poke check. His shot was clean to the high blocker side corner, however Halyk would not be beaten as he caught enough of the puck to deflect it wide of the goal.
The Cats open the 2022/23 season in the drivers seat. 2-0 for the first time since 2015. From Nigel Dubes perspective it was the result of paying attention and multiple efforts, “We know it is a marathon of a season and we had a couple very valuable learning lessons to kick off the year but we also found a way to win. We need contributions from all of the lines and every individual. Guys are finding the right areas and being quick to pull the trigger”.
Last season saw the Bobcats special teams get off to a rocky start. The power play was sub 15% into November before it started to turn and ultimately end the year at a respectable 19.5%. The season is young but special teams look much different. On the opening weekend the power play has scored on 5 of 9 chances, and while shorthanded there has only been one goal against. Dube on the importance of that shift, “Special teams is a huge part of the game, if you get an opportunity you have to make the most of it”, and make the most of it the Cats certainly have.
While the team unit has looked strong to start the season its hard not to look at some individual performances. Czar Alberta’s Matthew Swanson has opened the year with a goal and three assists. His goal Saturday was nightmare fuel for goaltenders as he came off the left side wall and would seemingly glide through defenders on his way to the front of the goal where he snapped a backhand release that left the goalie speechless, had the fans howling with excitement, and coach Dube singing his praises, “Swanson is a kid that has high expectations and challenges himself every night. Pretty sweet goal he had walking off the half wall tonight”.
One other notable figure on the weekend was goaltender Freddy Halyk. Two wins to the start the season off and having seen more than his fair share of shots at 83. Only he and Brooks’ Ethan Barwick opened the campaign 2-0 with Halyk seeing nearly twice as many shots. Again accolades from coach Dube, “Freddie came up huge in the shootout. Guys have confidence in him back there and its showing.”
The Lloydminster squad will get a couple days of rest before hosting the Sherwood Park Crusaders Tuesday evening. The Cru opened the season Friday with a win over their local rival Saints before falling to them Saturday night. Puck drop at the Centennial Civic Centre is slated for 7:00.