With a 5-2 victory over the Drayton Valley Thunder on Saturday night, the Lloydminster Bobcats set a new franchise record for points in a season (90), and solidified a third-place finish in the Viterra AJHL North Division as the regular season comes to a close.
The previous night, the Cats fell short in a frustrating loss to the Thunder, losing an opportunity to climb ahead of the Whitecourt Wolverines in the standings.
Despite a relatively strong start for the Bobcats, a power play goal early in the first period by Thunder defenceman Austin Yaremchuk on a one-timer that found it's way past goaltender Alex Leclerc stood up as the winning marker. Over the course of three periods, the Bobcats directed 48 shots towards Thunder goaltender Matt Berlin, who turned away each one for his first career AJHL shutout. Berlin was strong in the matchup, looking very steady in the Drayton Valley goal, but the offensive attack from the visitors mostly consisted of shots from outside any high-percentage scoring areas, with a number of shots missing the net when quality chances did appear.
In the Bobcats goal, Leclerc stopped 27 of 28 saves, displaying his tremendous agility on a handful of cross-ice scoring chances for the Thunder, helping to give his team a chance to draw even. However, the Cats were unable to take advantage as they ultimately fell 1-0.
As the Whitecourt Wolverines dropped their regular season finale in Sherwood Park on Friday night, the door was open for the Bobcats to move into second place with three of a possible four points over two games in Drayton Valley this weekend. After the Friday night loss to the Thunder, the Bobcats would need two points to secure third place on Saturday night.
After failing to score over 60 minutes on Friday night, the Cats broke through early on Saturday as Christian Lloyd put a slapshot past Thunder goaltender Brett Zarowny on a power play just 3:14 into the opening frame.
The Thunder responded midway through the first period as Jean-Francois Plourde put a rebound past Leclerc, but the Cats quickly regained the lead minutes later as Troy Van Tetering snapped a shot past Zarowny on the blocker side to make it 2-1.
Before the first period came to a close, former Thunder Brett Smythe deflected a shot from Eric Benshadle which found the back of the net, and the Cats took a 3-1 lead into the dressing room.
The second period played out with no scoring either way, thanks in large part to a diving save by Leclerc on Thunder leading scorer Brayden Harris.
Coming out in the third, the Bobcats put the pedal down as they would add two goals to their led. First, leading scorer Kevin Darrar teed up a one-timer from the top of the circle on a power play, popping the water bottle off of Zarowny's net to make it 4-1. Shortly afterwards, defenceman Graydon Smith scored his second goal of the season as he took a feed in the high slot and put it home to increase the Cats lead to four.
Thunder captain Joseph Tambasco cut into the lead late in the game on a beautiful individual effort, taking it coast to coast before beating Leclerc, but that's how the scoring would end up as the Bobcats claimed a 5-2 victory.
RECORDS: The Bobcats set two team records this season, with a new mark for wins at 44 (previous record 42 set in 1986-87 and 1999-2000) and for points at 90 (previous record 88 set in 1999-2000).
Individually, goaltender Alex Leclerc set the franchise record (including Lancers, Blazers, and Bobcats) for single-season wins with 31.
Points – Kevin Darrar (58 points in 58 games played) *Most points by a Bobcat since Adam Matlock (72) in 2008-09.
Goals – Morgan Messenger (23 goals in 60 games played)
Assists – Kevin Darrar (36 assists in 58 games played)
Penalty Minutes – Taylor Mulder (199 minutes in 57 games played)
Games Played – Morgan Messenger (60)
Wins – Alex Leclerc (31) *Most wins in franchise history.
The Bobcats and Whitecourt Wolverines both finished with 90 points, tied for second place in the division. The AJHL's first tiebreaker is regulation wins (total wins less overtime and shootouts), of which the Bobcats and Wolverines each have 35. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head regulation wins, of which the Wolverines have four and the Bobcats have one, thus bumping the Bobcats to third.
Round One (Best-of-five)
G1: Thursday, March 10th: Drayton Valley @ Lloydminster 7:30PM
G2: Friday, March 11th: Drayton Valley @ Lloydminster 7:30PM
G3: Sunday, March 13th: Lloydminster @ Drayton Valley 7:30PM
G4: Monday, March 14th: Lloydminster @ Drayton Valley 7:30PM*
G5: Wednesday, March 16th: Drayton Valley @ Lloydminster 7:30PM*