The Lloydminster Bobcats were lights out on the defensive side of the puck during the 2015-16 season, leading the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL) with
only 62 goals allowed in 34 games.
But they have been even better in the playoffs.
The Bobcats cruised to the AMHL and Pacific Region championships, fashioning an 11-1 record and allowing only 15 goals, with seven of those coming in their
lone postseason loss.
The secret ingredient to Lloydminster’s winning recipe? Goaltender Austin McGrath.
The netminder has been nothing short of sensational while leading the Bobcats to their first-ever TELUS Cup berth; he won all 11 of his playoff starts,
allowing only eight goals for a miniscule 0.72 goals-against average.
“For as long as I’ve known him he’s always stepped it up in the playoffs,” Lloydminster captain Brayden Goulet says of McGrath’s play. “But this year it’s
been an extra step, a leap higher than I’ve ever seen him take. And it’s been crazy.”
“The run that we went on is something you don’t hear of too often in Midget AAA hockey,” adds head coach Travis Clayton. “It was unbelievable action and I
was kind of in awe at it. Austin is a third-year goalie; very mature and has a lot of experience. He took the reins and ran with it and it’s been
Unbelievable indeed. Because as hard as it was for the Bobcats’ oldest player to hold off scoring chances night in and night out, there was a point where
it was even harder for him to hold back his tears.
Four days before the puck dropped on the AMHL playoffs, Kimberley John McGrath – Austin’s father – passed away on his 47th birthday after weeks of battling
lung and liver cancer.
“Because of his weakened immune system he caught the H1N1 virus,” says McGrath. “They flew him up [to Edmonton] because his lungs were pretty blocked up
and he wasn’t getting much oxygen. A week passed and his lungs just weren’t getting enough oxygen into his blood and his heart stopped.”
So how did the 18-year-old cope with losing the man who had instilled in him such a strong work ethic and supported him throughout both his life and hockey
By playing hockey, and standing tall in his crease.
“It was a little more difficult the first few games for sure. With everything going on I would just make sure to set a few minutes aside to sort of think
about him before going to the rink,” remembers McGrath.
“Once I got there I’d try and just focus on hockey and be there for my teammates and help them win. I let hockey be a place where I could get away from
everything that was going on outside the rink.”
McGrath finished his AMHL postseason run by allowing just one goal in his final seven games, including three consecutive shutouts in a sweep of the
defending Pacific Region champion Foothills Bisons in the league final.
Whether he was being carried by the spirits of his father or simply willing to leave it all on the line, McGrath has been a leader in the Lloydminster
locker room during the playoffs.
“I think he’s always been a guy playing for the guys beside him, but ever since his dad passed away he’s been extra focused,” Goulet says. “I don’t know if
it’s his dad that’s right in there with him but it’s definitely something that has been driving him to be a little better every day.”
For Clayton, the emotions that McGrath has endured touched every Bobcats in one way or another. While McGrath is playing for his father, he has 19 guys in
his locker room playing for him.
“I don’t know how he got through it, but the guys in that room helped him big time,” says Clayton. “Obviously you never want to lose someone close to you,
but it definitely made us a lot closer. The boys were there to support him, but he’s a very strong kid and really mature for his age.”
After such an emotional rollercoaster and dominating performances through the postseason, only one thing could make it all better for McGrath and the rest
of the Bobcats: lifting the TELUS Cup.
“Everyone’s bringing their best every night to play for me, to play for my father and to play for my family,” says McGrath. “We just grew a lot closer
through everything and battled through. It worked out pretty well for us and we’re looking to keep it going here in New Brunswick.”