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Written by Shane Tomayer
It was a long month last week.
The Bobcats entered Covid protocol January 6th, resulting in the re-scheduling of games and taking a busy schedule for the final third of the 21/22 campaign and making it even busier. It resulted in 5 games in 7 nights – something unheard of in a normal season at any elite level. The Cats however have made the absolute most of it with more than 2000km looking through bus windows chasing AJHL dreams. Three wins against the Grande Prairie Storm and a loss against the Pontiacs would bring them to Saturday night – the finish line on a very long week.
Drayton Valley came in to Lloydminster with a 23-12-7 record, 6 points up on the Bobcats. Owning 4th place, and the final space with home ice advantage in the first round of the AJHL playoffs. This would be a huge test for the Bobcats on any given night, Saturday however there were compounding factors. The schedule obviously – would there be any gas left in the proverbial tank? The Bobcats are more than a little beaten up – missing two regular defensemen who have been out long term (Gove/Kowaluk), one of their top forwards (Stewart) still injured and then add to it an injury to assistant captain and star blueliner Tegan Skehar Friday night, would mean a short bench at the end of a long week. Not a great recipe for success…. or a fantastic test of the teams metal.
The Thunder forced the Lloydmisnter squad to chase most of the night. Coach Eric Thurston was clear that the Drayton Valley game plan was to try and choke the Bobcats with speed. They came out flying against the home side and would open the scoring just under 9 minutes into the first. 3 minutes later Shendel would jump on an Andon Coles rebound and even the score. 2 minutes after that a Thunder D man (Brown) would fly to the net and take the lead again for the visitors. Which the Bobcats would answer again a few minutes later when Tanner Fincaryk fed the puck through the offensive zone to Hassan Akl on the far post for the tap in. *AJHL game records currently show this as an Andon Coles assist.
The Thunder and Cats would trade goals again in period 2 leaving them tied at 3 going into the third. Early in the third Jack Parker would send the puck towards the net where Jayven Leslie was waiting with stick ready for a tip passed Byron Fancy for the Cats first lead of the game. Far from done the Thunder would even things less than 5 minutes later and the seesaw would continue. Back and forth up and down the ice the two sides traded chances but with 2:10 left in regulation Andon Coles would fire from the blueline off a face of win and the puck would simply find a way. The Coles shot was destined for the top right side of the net but Grayson Reid of the Thunder would react by reaching out with his stick seemingly just by reflex. That stick would redirect the shots trajectory down and to the left – the opposite direction that the goalie had committed to, and with no chance to respond the puck rolled freely across the line to give the Bobcats the late lead – and ultimately the game winner.
Andon Coles has scored two goals this season. His first December 12th from just inside the blueline on the left side sent teddy bears flying across the Civic Centre ice. HIs second from the left side blueline sent fans to their feet cheering the go ahead. Safe to say Coles has a spot and thrives on big moments. The rookie blueliner was catching eyes around Lloydminster with his demeanor and smart play. Excelling through the first half of the season before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. While still playing very well since missing time Coles showed himself to be back in fine form Saturday evening. The Bobcats were playing with 5 defensemen. which is a tall task on any night. More so when its your 5th game in 7 nights. Dube was pleased with the work and results of the d-core. “It was good to see him (Coles) get rewarded, our d-core saw a lot of minutes with only 5 back there tonight. They kept it simple and executed. It was good to see them get results”.
Coles with a pair of points on the evening was not the only standout for the Cats. One player who is regularly noticed is Ethan Aucoin. The Bobcat rookie currently leads the team in scoring. He was rewarded again Saturday night increasing his total to 24 goals and 43 points in 45 games – he’s got 7 goals and 9 points in his last 7 games. Aucoin is as entertaining to watch for his skill as he is for his actions and reactions. Simply put the Calgary product is a character with a clear and obvious love for the game. Zoe (as he’s referred to in the room) makes the game look fun, there’s just no more concise way to say it. Regarding his rookie star Dube beamed, “He brings the energy and emotion every day, he loves the game. Whether in practice or a game he doesn’t take a day off from loving life and the game. Its fun to coach.”
Nigel continued on the win, the team, and the support, “I thought it was a big weekend at the Civic for us. Having spent 5 days on the road leading into it coming back from the pause we knew there would be a lot of hockey and we would have to be at our best. To finish the week off with two character wins, credit to the fantastic turn out of fans at the Civic for the extra push, the boys fed off it”
Regardless of how much any Bobcat loves the game I’m sure they will all enjoy a bit of a break. The 6th place Cats will have Sunday off before light practices and then back to game action in Whitecourt Wednesday the 26th. This will mark the first of four straight against the Wolverines over a 7 day span. Next home action is the 28th for game 2 of that 4 game set. Truly no rest for the wicked, and the Bobcats have been playing wicked good as of late.