The Lloydminster Bobcats head coach Garry VanHereweghe is ready for tonight’s home opener against the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
He just hopes his players are ready.
With over 800 season tickets sold before the start of the season, it should be a large crowd for puck drop at the Civic Centre for the start of the 2014-15 Alberta Junior Hockey League season.
Now the Bobcats just need a victory to get things off on the right track.
They haven’t had an opening day victory since 2010. That was a 3-1 victory over Bonnyville, the team they are used to starting the season against most of the time in a home-and-away. The last time Lloydminster faced another team besides Bonnyville to start the year was in 2009 against Grande Prairie. Lloydminster won that game 6-3.
With so much excitement around the start of this season, Bobcats fever has hit fairly hard. The hiring of former Fort McMurray Oil Barons’ coach Gord Thibodeau in the spring and the announcement of the RBC Cup coming to Lloydminster in 2016 sparked the flame of hockey in the Border City back in the spring. And once training camp hit, it turned the heat up on the team even more.
Camp pushed the new prospects and old veterans more than any year prior. There was more talk in the summer about making an RBC Cup run this year rather than just settling for the guaranteed spot next season. But next season was in the minds of the coaches and players during camp. It had to be as they build towards a national championship run.
But before there is any RBC Cup talk this year or next, the Bobcats have to get through the Sherwood Park Crusaders, a team that fought the Bobcats for third place last season all the way to the finish. They will be a highly skilled team again this season, full of speed and scoring ability.
With so many story lines heading into the season, here are my 10 thoughts to get you set up for tonight’s home opener:
1) Everything starts from the back end out and in net for the Bobcats is the same goalie who started last season. Devin Green returned to the Bobcats as a 20-year-old for his final season in the AJHL. Christopher Tai, who ended the playoffs as Lloydminster’s starter, is still in Kelowna on a WHL tryout with the Rockets. So for now at least, Green is the man in the crease. He had an excellent training camp during pre-season and will have a chance to solidify his spot in net with a quick start to the season. Ryan Ternes will back him up.
2) The Bobcats defence core is full of veterans. Starting tonight, we should see four returning players back on the blue line. Led by captain Linden Springer and assistant captain Tyler Kunz, Lloydminster has the offensive and defensive experience to keep pucks out of their net. Austin Yaremchuk and Mitchell Brennan round out the returning vets.
3) Veterans up front on opening night include Lucas Biensch, Taylor Mulder and Eric Therrien. Biensch showed a scoring touch during the pre-season, while Mulder and Therrien will be looked upon to add a little more points to their totals from last season. With more power play time and top six minutes, it should come naturally.
4) Jimmy Tich might be the scoring addition the Lloydminster Bobcats have always needed. Now they just need to find someone he can play with. He has the skill and speed to be a dominate player, as long as he adjusts to the Canadian style of hockey. The import from Minnesota was the leader of his Wyoming-based team last season, both as the captain and in points.
5) Just because camp ended, doesn’t mean the competition is over. Lloydminster is full of players looking to hit the top six. Ashton Clark, Zac Giroux, Tich and the Seto brother’s are just a few of the names who could earn themselves more playing time with good performances to start the season.
6) If I had a fantasy lineup option, I’d start with Tich, then Cam and Chris Seto. The brother’s have that brotherly ability to work together and Chris showed he was capable of scoring as well. Cam is his set-up man. Add in Tich and there is a lot of finish on that line. Even as a second power play option it adds another dynamic.
7) Lloydminster’s reserve roster is a pretty skilled group, but don’t expect to see many if any at all on the ice this season. Of the group, Christopher Tai may be the most likely to return. Patrick Geary is still trying out for the USHL, while River Beattie is also WHL bound. Mason Shaw could be staying with Medicine Hat a while longer, so there is a big question mark over his head. And Brandon Baddock, well, he just won a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Safe to say, he isn’t coming to the AJHL.
8) Last year Lloydminster was 2-4 against Sherwood Park. They played three times in January, including the Hockey Day in Canada game on January 18.
9) Lloydminster was 18-8-4 on home ice last season. The Civic was a place they were comfortable in. On the road they finished below .500 with a 13-15-2 record.
10) Returning to the veterans, there is a large desire to do better then last year’s Game 7 defeat to Fort McMurray. The impression was the Bobcats were a better team then what they were last season and this year’s team could go even further than that. The feeling is the Bobcats don’t want to settle for the RBC Cup in 2016. They want to get there this year, get some experience and be ready to host. Whether it be for gameplay experience or just to show they deserve to be there a year prior, the road to a national championship begins tonight.