The Road to the RBC Cup is off to a successful start for the Lloydminster Bobcats.
The 2016 RBC Cup hosts officially kicked off the 2015-16 season last weekend with a home-and-home series against the Bonnyville Pontiacs, and got their
Alberta Junior Hockey League schedule started with a pair of wins.
The Bobcats held off the Pontiacs for a 3-2 season-opening victory on Sept. 11 before blanking Bonnyville 4-0 in their home opener one night later.
“With everything coming later on during the season, getting off to a good start and just building is huge. Hopefully we can keep on getting better,” Morgan
Messenger, who scored in each of the Bobcats’ first two games, told the Lloydminster Booster.
Lloydminster enters the season with weighty RBC Cup expectations, heightened by a top-10 spot in the preseason Canadian Junior Hockey League national
The Bobcats start the year at No. 6, behind three teams who competed at last year’s RBC Cup – Penticton (No. 1), Carleton Place (No. 2) and Portage (No. 3)
– and two hosting regional championships next spring – Estevan (No. 4) and Woodstock (No. 5).
Against the Pontiacs it was veteran goaltender Alex Leclerc who led the way; the 20-year-old turned away 33 shots to help Lloydminster to a win in the
opener, and made 25 stops for the shutout 24 hours later.
Leclerc picked up AJHL Goalie of the Week honours for his performances.
Although it wasn’t as dominant as Portage’s 9-0 season-opening victory a year ago, the Bobcats earned the two points in their curtain-raiser; Zac Giroux
and Messenger scored 62 seconds apart late in the first period to get the offence started, and Alex Pernitsky’s goal 1:29 into the third stood up as the
The next night, Austin Yaremchuk’s shorthanded marker midway through the second period was all the offence Leclerc needed, and the second goals in as many
games from Messenger and Giroux, sandwiched around Taylor Lotoski’s first – all in the final 18 minutes – provided the final margin of victory.
“I’m just glad to have it over with. Home openers are always difficult,” Bobcats head coach Gord Thibodeau said to the Booster. “It seems you
always start a little bit slow and there is a lot of nerves. We did a lot of good things. I’d like to see us finish more. There are signs we are going to
be a good team but we still have a lot of work to do and there is going to be a lot of improvement there.”
Lloydminster is returning 11 players from the team that lost in the second round of the AJHL playoffs last spring, and earned the Bobcats’ highest
regular-season finish since 1999-2000.
Thibodeau made three big trades on the eve of the regular season, dealing away forward Patrick Geary (the team’s third-highest returning scorer),
defenceman Allan MacPherson and returning goaltender Ryan Ternes.
“It’s never easy, it’s never fun, and players hate losing teammates, but unfortunately some decisions have to be made and we’re trying to make the best
ones to fit this team,” the head coach told the Booster.
History is not on the side of the Bobcats; Portage earned Canada’s National Junior A Championship on home ice last season, and host teams have never
claimed back-to-back national titles since they were added to the tournament in 1985.