Penalty kill leading to positive results for Bobcats

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It’s not too often you’ll hear of Eric Therrien or Ray Bell when it comes to the Bobcats, but the two players have contributed immensely to the team’s improved play in the new year.

On the game sheet, the two players couldn’t be any more different – Therrien is a six-foot-one winger, while the six-foot-six Bell patrols the blueline for the ‘Cats – but the pair share qualities that have made them a constant force on the Bobcats’ penalty kill unit.

“The biggest thing is they’re smart and they’re committed, they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for the team,” said interim head coach Kyle Tapp. “Ray Bell blocks a whole hell of a lot of shots and Eric Therrien pays the price to get pucks out and he’s a very smart hockey player.”

Since Tapp took over as the team’s interim bench boss the Bobcats penalty kill has improved immensely, with both Bell and Therrien leading a group of players who have a better grasp on their role on the team.

“I wanted to give some guys ownership of some things so we kind of said ‘Hey, this is your baby,’ and everyone else will fill in. So they both know anytime there’s a penalty they don’t even have to ask the coach, they go on the ice,” Tapp added.

The penalty kill has been perfect for the Bobcats in their past three games, prior to last night’s game against Whitecourt, and since Tapp has taken over the team has given up just three power-play goals in 32 opportunities, which is a success rate of 90.6.
Stretched over the course of a full season, that ratio would give them the top penalty kill in the entire AJHL.

Therrien, who has 14 points in his rookie campaign, said it’s his commitment to playing a simple, mistake-free game, that makes him a good penalty killer.

“I try not to make too many mistakes and I think that led Tapp to kind of give me the big responsibility to kind of spearheading our penalty kill. And it’s definitely a responsibility I’ve gladly taken on,” said the Willow Bunch, Sask. native on Tuesday.

He does have some offensive talents, however, and should be put in more of an offensive role next year, but whoever heads next year’s team will be hard-pressed to remove him from the penalty kill.

Bell, on the other hand, has limited offensive talents, but the towering defenceman takes pride in his work on the penalty kill.

“For me being a defensive defenceman, a blocked shot or a good (icing) or a good play to a winger on the PK is better than a goal,” Bell said. “It’s a lot of fun, being on the power play there’s a lot more pressure but I feel a little more free on the PK.”

Both players have worked a lot on the penalty kill through all levels of hockey, and that has allowed them to succeed in Tapp’s high-pressure penalty kill.

“The systems he is implementing with us is a big reason, and we’ve got d-men back there, forwards don’t always block the shots that we should and whenever we don’t the d-men always bail us out,” explained Therrien.

On Friday, however, the penalty kill will be up against their toughest task against the Brooks Bandits (44-2-2), who far-and-away boast the league’s top power play with a 31.1 per cent success rate.

“We’ve got to get in front of their shots and we definitely can’t be making any mistakes, they’ll have guys sneaking in back door, they like making fancy plays, so you always have to have your head on a swivel and be watching for those,” Therrien added.

Puck drop for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.