It was understood coming into tonight's game that only one team would emerge undefeated, and the Lloydminster Bobcats made sure that it would be them.
Both the Sherwood Park Crusaders and the Lloydminster Bobcats were tied for second in the AJHL North with identical 4-0-0 records heading into Tuesday night, just one win behind first place Spruce Grove who sat at 5-0-0.
It didn't take long for the Bobcats to jump ahead and take the early lead, scoring the first goal for the fifth time in as many games, with rookie forward Noah Bauld deflecting in a shot from the blueline by linemate Kevin Darrar just 4:32 into the first period for his third goal of the year.
Later in the first period, Sherwood Park had a golden opportunity to tie the game as the AJHL's leading goal scorer Tyler Maltby received a backdoor pass on a 3 on 1, put a hard shot to the seemingly open net on Alex Leclerc's glove side, only for Leclerc to get across at the last second to snag the puck and preserve the Bobcats lead.
Minutes later, the 'Cats added to their lead when Alex Pernitsky skated the puck out of trouble from his defensive end, taking a heavy hit along the wall in the Sherwood Park zone as he waited for the lane to open up before feeding Morgan Messenger with a timely backhand pass before Messenger finished with a nice forehand-backhand move around Crusaders goaltender Zac Klassen and into the back of the net. This would stand as the final scoring play of the first frame, with the Bobcats taking a 2-0 lead into the locker room.
The second period settled into a sluggish pace, with a total of 26 minutes in penalties handed out including a 2 minute minor for checking from behind and a game misconduct to Crusaders point leader Ryan Kruper. With one of their top offensive weapons out of the game, Sherwood Park was still able to bring the game within one as Cameron Brezinski found the puck at the end of a 3 on 1 rush and chipped it over Leclerc's left shoulder from a sharp angle to cut the Bobcats lead in half.
It seemed to be a bit of a momentum swing in the Crusaders favour, but the visitors were unable to find the tying goal before the end of the second. In the third period, the Crusaders continued to press, but were denied time after time by Leclerc and the Bobcats defence, before the home side was able to add a goal of their own to swing the momentum back in their direction.
After winning a draw on the offside dot just outside of the Bobcats zone to the right of goaltender Alex Leclerc, centre Morgan Messenger swooped low and cut up ice, receiving a pass through a seam in the middle of the Crusaders defence to create a two on one rush with linemate Noah Bauld. Messenger drove the centre of the slot and faked a shot to freeze Klassen before sliding it backdoor to Bauld who made no mistake, converting his second goal of the night.
Just 2:28 later, Crusaders forward Luke Kempf was given five minutes and a game misconduct for a slash on Messenger, putting the Bobcats on a brief 5-on-3 powerplay with Darcy Zaharichuk serving the end of a high-sticking call. The 'Cats would fail to convert on the two man advantage, putting their powerplay to 0-for-4 on the night, and a paltry 2-for-23 on the season to that point.
However, just over a minute after Zaharichuk stepped out of the box, Bobcats defenceman Christian Lloyd sent a wrist shot from the point that found its way past Klassen to give the Bobcats a 4-1 lead. The goal was Lloyd's first as a Bobcat, and the team's first powerplay marker since September 12th.
After the ensuing faceoff, Bobcats goaltender Alex Leclerc was called for tripping, pushing the two teams to four-on-four for two minutes that didn't yield much in terms of offence, but when the Bobcats powerplay resumed they were able to find the back of the net again.
This time it was defenceman Nick Quillan notching his first goal as a 'Cat as he stepped into a loose puck after a goal mouth scramble and made no mistake, driving the puck into the open cage. This would be the final goal of the night, setting the tally at 5-1 in favour of the home side.
With the win, Lloydminster moves into a tie with Spruce Grove for top spot in the AJHL North Division. The Bobcats powerplay, a point of concern heading into the night as it had been converting on only 10.5% of opportunities, ended up 2 for 5 against the Crusaders, a much more respectable 40%. On the penalty kill, the 'Cats kept up an impressive rate, killing off all three shorthanded situations to put their total on the season to 22 kills in 23 opportunities, a rate of 95.7% which is good for best in the league.
After a night off on Saturday, Alex Leclerc was stellar in his return to the crease with one goal allowed on 19 shots, adding up to a 0.947 save percentage.
The Bobcats hit the road this weekend, with a trip through Whitecourt on Friday and Grande Prairie on Saturday. The puck will drop on both of those games at 7:30PM, and you can catch the pregame and the call on Lloyd FM beginning at 7:10PM each night.