There was no easing into it tonight as the Lloydminster Bobcats dropped their 2016-17 regular season opening game against the Bonnyville Pontiacs by a score of 6-3.
From the opening puck drop, an experienced Pontiacs roster pushed the pace and moved the puck all over the ice, keeping the rookie-heavy Bobcats on their heels. Lloydminster goaltender Jeremy Kelleway was the difference in the early going as he vacuumed every shot directed his way until the home team was able to break the shutout.
Finding himself with a lane to the net, former Camrose Kodiak PJ Marrocco drove in tight before lifting the puck over Kelleway’s glove hand to give the Pontiacs a lead. The goal was scored at the 8:19 point of the contest, at which time the Bobcats had only registered one shot on goal, a shot that was released from well outside the Pontiacs zone. However, this soon didn’t matter as Kelleway continued to make big saves and his team provided a bit of support.
Taking a hit to make the play, Bobcats defenceman Jamieson Ree chipped the puck up the right wall for winger Zach Kaiser who quickly tossed it to linemate Will Middleton. The rookie out of Beausejour, MB corralled a bouncing puck and put it into the back of the net in one quick motion, notching the first AJHL goal of his career. That was the last shot the Bobcats would register as the first period came to a close with the Pontiacs leading the shot clock 12-2.
Early in the second period, the Pontiacs offense started to click, leaving Kelleway in an unenviable situation. Ryan Piche set the tone as he took a feed in the high slot and ripped it off the right post and in to give Bonnyville a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Minutes later, defenseman Erik Donald drove wide into the offensive zone, freezing everybody in site as he looked to shoot before dishing it to a wide open Ryan Symington who knocked it into the open cage to make it a two goal lead. At the midway point of the period the damage continued on the power play as Alden Dupuis eluded coverage behind the net, drawing a Bobcats penalty killer his way before dishing to Jared Power who blasted a one-timer home.
The second period came to a close with the Bobcats trailing 4-1 and being outshot by a margin of 26-10. It would then get worse before it got better.
With Lloydminster looking for life early in the third, it was all but snuffed out as Marrocco took a slick feed from Charlie Gawlicki that put him in alone on Kelleway, snapping it home to make it a 5-1 game on a run of four consecutive goals for the Pontiacs. However, the Bobcats soon showed a level of resiliency that made the game interesting once again.
Just over five minutes into the third period, Middleton was caught by a heavy hit from Piche, sending the rookie to the ice and the fans into a frenzy. Bobcat defenseman Nolan Carothers immediately stepped in to defend his teammate, earning a five minute major for fighting to go with a two minute instigator. The sequence led to a 4-on-4 situation where some of the Bobcats’ young talent was put on display.
After a couple of impressive plays, Zach Webb and Kobe Walker were finally able to connect as Walker dished out front to a wide open Webb, who quickly lifted a backhand over Pontiacs net minder Sandro Silvestre. This brought the score to 5-2, which still felt out of reach until the Bobcats were able to cut further into the lead.
With Bonnyville on a brief power play stemming from the Carothers instigator, forward Tre Doyon picked off a neutral zone drop pass and sped into Bonnyville territory before ripping a wrist shot past Silvestre to make it two goals in just over three minutes as the Pontiacs lead was cut to two.
Minutes later the momentum looked to be growing for the visitors as Symington was whistled for tripping, putting the hungry Cats on the power play. However, it ended up backfiring on Lloydminster as Alden Dupuis took a feed from Charlie Gawlicki up ice and beat Kelleway with a shorthanded goal of his own to bring the game to 6-3, which ended up being tonight’s final.
Kelleway was faced with a lot of rubber tonight in the Bobcats net, stopping 30 of 36 pucks directed his way. At the other end, Silvestre made 17 saves on 20 shots.
The Pontiacs went 1 for 4 on the man advantage and added a shorthanded tally, while Lloydminster failed to convert on three power plays and registered a shorthanded goal of their own.
The two teams resume the rivalry Saturday night at the Civic Centre at 7:30. Make sure you come out early to take part in the pre-game celebrations outside the building including a BBQ, bouncy houses from the Tent Guys, and the 1-Up Gaming Video Game Truck.