The Lloydminster Bobcats will start the next season where their last season ended.
The 2015-16 Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) schedule was released and for the first time since 2012, the Bobcats will start the season on the road rather than at home, taking on a familiar division rival in the Bonnyville Pontiacs.
It was in Bonnyville on March 22 where the Bobcats lost 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 of the second round of the playoffs, ending their 2014-15 season with a 4-2 series defeat. On opening night, Sept. 11, Lloydminster will return to the R.J. Lalonde Arena for the first game of what could be the most important season in franchise history, as the Bobcats start the road to the RBC Cup.
“There are still some emotions there,” said Bobcats captain Taylor Mulder. “We have such a rivalry against them. It will be nice to get the first couple games in against them to get some emotion going and get the guys going for sure.”
Bonnyville will come down to Lloydminster the following night for the Bobcats home opener, the first of what will be a four-game homestand over the next 10 days, as Whitecourt, Grande Prairie and Sherwood Park all come to town.
Lloydminster will play North Division opponents for the first eight games of the season before taking on Camrose on Oct. 1 at the Civic Centre.
Twice through the season the Bobcats will have four games in a row at home, once in September and again in October. However, they will have a long stretch in December heading into the new year where they won’t see the Civic Centre. They will have 25 days between home games from Dec. 15 to Jan. 4, as Lloydminster heads out for six away games prior to the Christmas break, only to come back after over a week off with a road trip up to Grande Prairie for two games.
It means for a month the Bobcats are sleeping in hotels and spending lots of time on the bus. It can more of a mental challenge than anything, and comes at a time when the team is getting ready for the holiday break.
“It’s tough being on the road because you don’t have your own fans, sleeping in a different place and all that time on the road,” said Mulder. “Mentally, you always have to be ready for it and getting your rest and eating good. Just keeping mentally focused for it all.”
At the end of the season Lloydminster will get a small dose of playoff mentality before the postseason begins, as they will face the Drayton Valley Thunder four times in five games over the course of three weekends. The first weekend Lloydminster will be home for both games, then they will welcome the Brooks Bandits in for the final home game of the season on Feb. 16. The Bobcats will then head to Drayton Valley for two games against the Thunder, ending the season on March 5.
While the Bobcats are hoping by then that they will have their playoff position locked up, playing the same team that many times gives them the opportunity to earn a lot of points should they need them at the end of the season, while also giving them a challenging opponent right before the playoffs are about to begin.
“If you are playing a team that many times in that span you’ll learn lots of knowledge of the team and you can go into each game prepared from the game before, so it is kind of nice having that many games in a row,” said Mulder. “Drayton Valley is a good team too. They are always tough to play against. (They) will challenge you and get your ready for (playoffs).”
Other important dates include the AJHL Showcase weekend, which will be held in Camrose this year from Oct 1 to 3. Lloydminster will play Camrose and Brooks that weekend.
The 2016 AJHL Gas Drive playoffs will begin on March 10.
The biggest date on the calendar, however, will be May 14, 2016, the start of the 2016 RBC Cup in Lloydminster.