Summer Series: The Border City Bobcats

We’ve seen where it all started with the Lancers, how their rough and tumble origins helped forge them into a versatile and persistent team. We looked back on their time playing in Saskatchewan, and how they transitioned into Alberta Hockey. Next we covered the Blazers, how they struggled with financial woes, saw how the community rallied behind them, and recalled their triumphs on the ice.

The next evolution of the Lloydminster hockey scene was of course, the Bobcats. It was through the combined efforts of Wayne Russell, Merv Krauss and Don Herzog that the Rusway Construction Ownership Group was established to purchase the team and keep them in Lloydminster. Like the Lancers before them, a contest was held in local schools to come up with a new name. The orange and black colors were chosen to match the company colors of Rusway Construction. Lana Lane stepped into a front office role as Operations Manager, while all-time leading scorer Mark Hallam returned to the organization in the capacity of Marketing Manager. Head Coaches through the first seven years were Norm Johnston, Tom Keca, and Brian Curran.

The Bobcats formative years were turbulent on the ice, but that did not perturb the franchise from pressing onward. A measure of success was found in 2010-11, when the Bobcats finished 3rd in the North Division. But events unfolding away from the rink were about to challenge the franchise yet again. The Rusway Construction Ownership Group was poised to sell the team. Local business lacked interest in ownership, so things were looking dire. Whitecourt had been eagerly awaiting the chance to have their own team and Lloydminster was looking almost ready to oblige.

But just when things looked bleakest things took another turn. Mayor Jeff Mulligan reached out to local businesses and explored the option of having the Bobcats be a community owned franchise. A total of 104 shares were bought by 87 people, each worth 5,000 dollars each.  This measure effectively saved the team and would provide much needed stability in the future. Malcome Radke, a Lloydminster native fresh out of business school at the University of Saskatchewan would be the Business Manager and helped to sell 800 season tickets which pulled the Bobcats out of debt.

Now that the Bobcats were on even footing it was time to take to the ice. Brian Curran moved on from the team and became the coach of the Drumheller Dragons, and was replaced with Ryan Parent and Kyle Tapp the following year. In 2013-14, Garry Vanhereweghe took over as the team’s Head Coach, and would stay on board for three successful years. Following some middling results on ice during the early years of the Bobcats, the team took great strides as they finished in the top three teams of the North Division for three straight years. The third year, Gord Thibodeau took over as Head Coach, with VanHereweghe becoming the assistant, reversing roles from the year before.
From the time VanHereweghe joined the team, the Bobcats went from 68 points to 72, and then to a franchise-record 90 points as the team prepared to host the 2016 RBC Cup.

The Bobcats advanced all the way to the North Division final in 2016 after sweeping both the Drayton Valley Thunder and the Whitecourt Wolverines in the first two rounds. Unfortunately the playoff push came to an end abruptly in a five game loss to the Spruce Grove Saints in the North Final. However, the Bobcats were the host team of the 2016 RBC Cup National Jr. A Championship, and received an automatic entry as a result. The Cats proved that they belonged in the tournament as they picked up a win that helped them into the tournament semi-final, where they dropped the #1 seed Trenton Golden Hawks by a score of 6-2, advancing to the national championship. Despite pouring 48 shots on net, the Bobcats were unable to get on the board and fell by a score of 4-0 in that game.

It was a time of more shakeups for the Bobcats as Malcolm Radke, Garry VanHereweghe, and Gord Thibodeau all departed the organization. Paradise Hill native Travis Clayton was selected as the new head coach and general manager, while Taylor Holt became assistant coach. The first year under the new regime was challenging for the Bobcats, who returned just one player from the 22-man RBC Cup roster, and the Bobcats missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13.
But just like the city itself, Lloydminster hockey is resilient. Weathering the bad times and always making the most of the opportunities presented to them. The Bobcats will carry on this tradition into the future and so will future teams that play for the Border City. As long as there is local enthusiasm and passion for the game of hockey, Lloydminster will always be a hockey town.