Beware the Ide's of January.
By Shane Tomayer
It doesn't have the same Shakespearean ring as the Ideas of March but those who follow the CJHL to any degree know the importance of the second week of January each season. While it may not get the bright lights or 24 hour television coverage of the NHL trade deadline the second week of January locks in team rosters across the CJHL in their pursuit of a national championship. Each season the deadline acts as a barometer for teams futures. Like your grandads arthritic knee predicts when the weather is changing, the deadline predicts which teams are gearing up for a run at something special, and which are looking further down the road.
Teams can be categorised into buyers, sellers, contentors at the deadline - realising of course that "contentors" is not a word, until now. Those looking for that missing piece buy. Those who accept their fate and look towards tomorrow sell. Teams who like where they sit, or can't find the steal they want remain content. The last time the Lloydminster Bobcats could be viewed as buyers would be 2015-2016 while on their way to a second place finish at the RBC Cup. Since that season (not including this campaign) the Cats have had a record of 58-168-14, and have participated in the playoffs just once in that span. As one can assume that has not regularly put them into a position to be pushing for a top spot. This season however, the Bobcats are 20-19-4, just 5 points away from home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with critical games ahead that could push them up the standings. This for the first time in a long time puts the border city club into a position to look to add, tweak and hopefully improve for that final playoff push.
Head Coach and General Manager Nigel Dube did exactly that at the deadline this year, partially by desire. Partially by a forced hand. "After Christmas when Zafir (Rawji) made the decision to leave to play USports, we knew it was an offensive area where we would want to fill. With Kowaluk already out from injury in November and the potential of Stewart being out long term we were focussed on adding some experience to our group."
Dube made 4 moves for the deadline.
- Trading (F) Jared Miller ('02) to Fort McMurray for (F) Hassan Akl ('01)
- Trading (D) Rylan Jockims ('03) to Calgary for (D) Zack Whittaker ('01)
- Adding (F) Jordan Borysiuk ('02) from the Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
- Adding (F) Reid Mackay ('04) from the Lethbridge Hurricans (WHL)
When Dube took over the Lloydminster Bobcat reins one of his first focusses was to start to rebuild, to go young and develop. At the deadline Dube added two 20 year olds, "We knew for the first time in our process we would have the opportunity to add age to our group. We had been looking to add a twenty year old for some time to the back end and we were able to do that with Zack (Whittaker), who also knows the North division. When the chance came available to add Hassan (Akl) we had seen him enough to know he is an offensive player in our league and plays to our game. Whitakker, while acquired from the Canucks started his AJHL career with the Pontiacs where he played 19 games between the end of last season and the start of this.
One of the first players recruited by the Dube team when they took over in Lloydminster was Jared Miller. Miller, popular in the room and in the community, was a key part of the Bobcats roster in his time in Lloydminster, putting up 10 points in 65 games. Last year was expected to be a huge development year to build off his 5 point rookie campaign, it was of course cut short. This season also did not go as planned for the forward after being injured in training camp. It was not an easy trade for the GM to make to move along a piece with as much potential as the Crossfield product. "Miller had a tough start to the season when he was injured from day one, it was a difficult stretch for him and I think this gives him a fresh start after a trying first half, we wish him all the best."
A familiar face to Lloydminster hockey was added back into the fold in Jordan Borysiuk. The forward out of Mannville played with the U18 Bobcats in 17/18 & the start of 18/19 before joining the Jr A Cats as part of the Dube youth movement, where he recorded 16 points in 33 games. Dube is pleased to have him back in black and orange, "Borysiuk is a player with a lot of potential and we saw that when we brought him in my first season at Christmas time as a sixteen year old. We are going to inject him in the line up and we look forward to where he can get his game back to with this opportunity." Borysiuk has spent the last three seasons between the Red Deer Rebels and Swift Current Broncos of the WHL.
Another familiar face to the region joining the Bobcats is Reid Mackay from Irma. He played as a 16 year old last season in the abbreviated U18 Bobcats season. This isn't the first time Dube has tried to acquire the young forward. "Reid was a player I had been in conversation with during recruiting when he took the opportunity in the Western League. Being from the area and playing in the elite system in Lloydminster we are excited about his game and the offensive upside we think he can play with."
Asked about the acquisitions and the deadline as a whole Dube was satisfied, "It has been a quiet year on the trade front across many leagues, we wanted to be as aggressive as we could without giving up our future to do so. We have a great group of kids in our dressing room today and we like where the future is at as well. Our biggest thing at the deadline was making sure if we brought anyone into the room they were going to fit our group, from all accounts of character the guys we added today will fit right in." It seems clear on the surface that the additions and subtractions wash out to the Bobcats coming out ahead. When asked to compare the roster in September to the roster after the deadline, "Our group has grown from September, the North division is such a tough division you need to be at your best every night. We've had some bumps in our road the last few weeks but I think when we get back on the ice our group will help learn from the experience and be better moving forward. There is a lot of work left to do".
While losing players is always difficult for the room, the Bobcats have certainly seemed to add offence in an effort to replace what's been lost in Zafir Rawji and Jared Miller. Additionally adding a 20 year old veteran defenceman should provide some additional stability to the back end. Time will of course be the truest test to how these transactions have worked out, but in the meantime on paper it would seem that Dube has made steps to improve the team, on paper at the very least.
The Bobcats are currently riding out the balance of games that required rescheduling due to league Covid-19 protocols. Next (current) scheduled league action comes Wednesday January 19th when the new look Bobcats will head to the Lakeland region to take on the Pontiacs. You can see the revised squad live at the Civic Centre for the first time Friday January 21st when they face off against the Grande Prairie Storm.
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