The end wasn't pretty, but in the end the Lloydminster Bobcats earned a 3-2 shootout victory over the top team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the Spruce Grove Saints.
After playing as good of a period as the team has played all year in the middle stanza, the Bobcats headed into the third period with plenty of momentum and a two goal lead. However, the Saints pulled the flow of the play right back in their favour, killing off an ineffective Bobcats powerplay early in the third frame and pushing the play towards Lloydminster goaltender Alex Leclerc. Finally, just past the midway point of the third period, the Saints were able to find a way past Leclerc as Connor James drifted a long shot on goal from the blue line that caught the netminder by surprise, bouncing off of his shoulder and into the net behind him.
PHOTO: FIVEPENNY PHOTOS
Over the next several minutes the teams traded penalties, first with the 'Cats killing off a slashing penalty to Morgan Messenger, then shortly after that the Saints killed off a slashing penalty against Austin Hunter. Hunter would be assessed a ten minute misconducts as well, ending his night early. Late in the third period, with Saints goaltender Garrett Mason on the bench for an extra attacker, Spruce Grove forward Taylor Crunk got his stick up on Kevin Darrar in front of the net and it looked as if the Bobcats would be able to close the game out with the man advantage. However, only 17 seconds later Bobcats captain Taylor Mulder was given a two minute minor for checking to the head and a ten minute misconduct to bring the teams back to even.
With Mason on the bench, affiliated player Logan Ganie, a native of Irma, AB who plays for the Lloydminster Midget AAA Bobcats beat Leclerc with a wrist shot to tie the game at 2-2 and force overtime.
The Saints opened the overtime with a brief 4-on-3 powerplay as Mulder was still serving his minor penalty. The Saints didn't strike on the man advantage, and play continued at 4-on-4 until the next whistle, which didn't occur until the final buzzer went with the score still tied 2-2. Each team had one great scoring chance in the extra frame. First, Cole Nicholson was fed backdoor by Saints teammate Nicolas Correale and had a wide open net to put the puck into to finish the game. Nicholson misfired and rang the puck off the iron and play continued. Moments later, Bobcats forward Connor Odelein drove to the net and took a feed from teammate Christian Lloyd, but he also wasn't able to get everything on it and the puck deflected just high and wide.
Next came a shootout, a scenario that the Bobcats had been perfect in up until last Wednesday against Bonnyville. First up for the Saints was defenceman Ian Mitchell, who made a move to his backhand that Alex Leclerc tracked the whole way and turned aside with his blocker. Then came Bobcats forward Zac Giroux, who faked a shot to get Mason moving before tucking the puck five hole to put the 'Cats ahead 1-0. Colton Leiter shot next for the Saints, and with a move similar to Giroux's opened up Leclerc to slip the puck five hole to make it 1-1. Kris Spriggs got the nod for the Bobcats in round two, and beat Mason glove side with a beautiful backhand move to put the Bobcats ahead 2-1. Then needing a goal to stay alive, Trey Fix-Wolansky missed high and wide into the glass, clinching a 3-2 shootout victory for the 'Cats.
Earlier in the night, Connor Odelein put the emphasis on an excellent second period by the Bobcats, scoring his fourth and fifth goals of the season to give his team a 2-0 lead. First, Odelein took a feed from Christian Lloyd off the wall and walked in alone on Mason, beating him glove side with a wrist shot. Then five minutes later, Odelein took a feed up the right side from linemate Austin O'Rourke, and beat Mason with a slap shot from a tight angle to stretch the lead to two.
The Bobcats were very physical throughout the game, with a couple big hits thrown by Taylor Mulder and Kevin Darrar early on to set the tone for the night. An uneventful first period gave way to a very strong second, that ultimately propelled the Bobcats into extra time where they were able to pick up the second point.
For both teams, the man advantage didn't have much of a benefit, as each side went 0-for-7 on the night. The seven opportunities each way include a couple truncated power plays, but nonetheless the penalty kill units were a major factor.
With a 36 save effort, Alex Leclerc earned his 17th win of the year between the pipes for the Bobcats, and his save percentage on the night of 0.947 was ten points above his mark for the year at 0.937. In the other net, Garrett Mason stopped 20 of 22 shots for the Saints, and lost in a shootout for the second time since being acquired from Drayton Valley.
The game was the 'Cats 30th of the season, signifying the official midway point of the season. For the rest of the month, the team will be away from the Civic Centre with six straight road games before returning home in early 2016.
The road swing gets started on Friday night when the Bobcats roll out to Whitecourt to take on the fourth-place Wolverines, with puck drop at 7:30 PM.