Spruce Grove goaltender Brett Zarowny stumped the Bobcats early, and the offense eventually kicked in as the defending AJHL champion Saints found a way to win on Tuesday night in Lloydminster.
It was a showdown between the top two teams in the AJHL, and the Canadian Junior Hockey League's number one and two ranked teams in the country, and the home side came out flying.
The chances came early and often for the Bobcats in the first period, as Taylor Lotoski and Taylor Mulder were both robbed in the opening minutes, setting the tone for what would become a trend throughout the game. Through 20 minutes, the Bobcats poured 15 shots on the Spruce Grove goal, including several quality chances, but were unable to get anything past Zarowny.
The goaltender from Elk Point, AB would get some goal support later in the first period as Nicolas Correale lifted a rebound quickly under the bar to give the Saints a 1-0 lead 12:15 into the game. After the first frame, Spruce Grove held that 1-0 lead despite being outshot 15-3.
In the second, the chances kept coming early on for the Bobcats as they went to the powerplay for a third time in the game in the opening minutes but were unable to solve Zarowny. 8:05 into the middle stanza, Lloydminster native Eric Hunter banged in a rebound and gave the Saints a 2-0 lead. A couple minutes later, the Bobcats went on the penalty kill for the first time of the evening as Cole Josefchak was sent off for hooking, and on the ensuing powerplay Riley Simpson deflected a shot from Ian Mitchell past Pierce Diamond to push the lead to three goals.
Heading into the final frame down 3-0, the Bobcats needed an early spark to set a comeback in motion, but instead it was the Saints pouring more water on whatever embers were left. Just 34 seconds into the third period, Jake Mykitiuk converted a 2 on 1 to give the Saints a 4-0 lead.
Minutes later, Taylor Allan appeared to have had teeth knocked out of his mouth on a high sticking play, and was forced out of the game for the rest of the night. In the back half of the ensuing four minute powerplay, the Bobcats showed some push back as Mackenzie Bauer finally got a puck past Zarowny on a wrap-around on his glove side, bringing the score to 4-1.
The Bobcats would come no closer, however, as the remainder of the game played out without another goal. Final shots favoured the Bobcats 38-17 over 60 minutes.
Special teams were a factor in the game, as the Bobcats were on the powerplay seven times, only able to convert on one. Meanwhile, the Saints made the most of their opportunities by striking once on their two man-advantage scenarios.
Lloydminster's schedule doesn't get any easy as the 'Cats head into the AJHL showcase later this week, with a Thursday night matchup against Camrose and a Friday matinee against Brooks.
The Bobcats did not wilt at any point, and showed some push back by finally breaking through Zarowny as Mackenzie Bauer scored his first as a Bobcat on a wrap-around play on a powerplay just before the midway point of the third.