The Lloydminster Bobcats won’t be the fourth RBC Cup host team in five years to win a league title, but their lengthy playoff run has them looking forward
to Canada’s National Junior A Championship.
The Bobcats saw their Alberta Junior Hockey League season come to an end April 8 with a Game 5 loss to the Spruce Grove Saints in the league semifinals,
meaning they’ll have 36 days to get ready to welcome the country’s best Junior A teams at the RBC Cup, which opens May 14.
The name of the game will be preparation, on and off the ice.
“This week we’re practicing,” Gord Thibodeau, the Bobcats’ head coach and general manager, told the Lloydminster Meridian Booster shortly after
being eliminated by the Saints.
“We’ve got spring camp, so the players are going to be here, but after spring camp they’ll head home for a week, and then we’ll have a three-week training
camp prior to the RBC. We’ll practice 15 to 17 times throughout the last week of April and first two weeks of May, getting ready for RBC.”
The time off will give the Bobcats a chance to heal – Thibodeau says three players are injured, but all three should be back in time for the start of the
national championship – and recharge.
The loss to Spruce Grove closed the book on one of the most successful seasons in franchise history; the Bobcats finished third in a tight North Division
with 44 wins and 90 points, both all-time bests.
Lloydminster made quick work of Drayton Valley in the opening round of the playoffs, sweeping the Thunder in three straight, and made a statement with a
four-game sweep of the Whitecourt Wolves despite not having home-ice advantage for the AJHL quarter-final.
But it ran up against the two-time defending league champions from Spruce Grove, and while the Bobcats did hand the Saints their first playoff defeat in
Game 4, they were outscored 22-8 in their four losses.
“I think we had a good year,” said Thibodeau. “Obviously we would have preferred to win every game and go through to be league finallists, but it’s a very
difficult league, and I think we accomplished a lot this year. I think we wanted to make sure we went into RBC as a competitive team, and I think we are.”
A late-November trade acquisition from Drayton Valley, Brett Smythe co-led the offensive charge in the playoffs with 13 points in 12 games, alongside trade
deadline pick-up Eric Benshadle, while AJHL MVP Alex Leclerc posted a respectable 2.85 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
Now comes the fun part – hosting the RBC Cup.
“[The other five teams are] all going to be upper-echelon teams. I think it’s going to be very exciting, and will provide great community pride for a
week,” Thibodeau told the Meridian Booster.
“We’re looking forward to hosting this … the community excitement right now is on a high, but I can’t wait to see what it’s like when we start. This
community has always supported events and it’s a great year for hockey, especially with our Midget AAA team doing as well as they have.”
History is not on the Bobcats’ side; the Portage Terriers claimed the RBC Cup last year, ending a 10-year drought by host teams, but hosts have never
claimed back-to-back national championships, dating back to the introduction of the host team in 1985.