For the past two years, many people in and out of the Lloydminster Bobcats organization have put plenty of time and effort into building the Royal Bank Cup.
And while the most important nine days are still to come, the days it took to create the tournament makes those nine days look fairly small, even though a national championship will be awarded at the end.
Since Lloydminster was revealed as the winner of the bid to host the tournament, beating out Summerside, P.E.I. after losing their initial bid to host the 2015 Western Canada Cup to Fort McMurray, hundreds of hours on and off the ice have been spent building a team to compete at the national level and preparing a city for the biggest hockey tournament in its history.
“It is one thing we have tried to stress to the guys,” said Gord Thibodeau, head coach of the Lloydminster Bobcats. “This community has put forth such an effort to not only host the Royal Bank Cup, but the bid committee and all the work that has gone into this, there is so many people in this community that have touched the RBC side.
“It’s a big deal to this community and it should be. It’s a national championship and a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of kids.”
With all the added attention in the last two seasons, it would be easy to get into overload and put added pressure on the team to perform on the ice.
Thibodeau and co-coach Garry VanHereweghe have been busy the last two years making numerous trades in order to bring in the best players they can to make a run at the Bobcats first championship in franchise history.
It’s been a massive undertaking from all sides of the spectrum, as while the Bobcats were on the ice playing, host committee members were busy planning the tournament that would once again put Lloydminster in the spotlight on the national level.
While Lloydminster has hosted the Allan Cup three times before, and recently hosted Hockey Day in Canada, the RBC Cup is on a scale well beyond them both, as it’s the largest tournament Hockey Canada produces every year.
And Thibodeau believes there would be no better way to thank the many people who have made this tournament possible than to keep the RBC Cup here in Lloydminster for the next year.
“We want our guys to be thankful and respectful of the effort this community has put in,” said Thibodeau.
“Lets face it, a great way to pay them back would be to win it. You are winning it for more than just themselves, you are winning it for the city of Lloydminster forever. It’s about putting those tracks down and having that name live forever.”
Lloydminster’s junior A team has never won a championship before, be it in the Saskatchewan or Alberta Junior Hockey Leagues, or on a regional or national scale.
There will be undoubtedly plenty of pressure put on the young men who will suit up for the Bobcats on Saturday night and try to do something no team has done before them.
So the only question remains is, can they actually win the tournament and become Canada’s top team.
“I think when it comes down to it, it is never about talent at this stage,” said Thibodeau. “It’s about how tight knit the group is and how badly they want it. If you talk to guys who have been through this before, it’s never about who has the best group of individuals. It’s about who, in a short time, can really come together and play as a group.
“I like the makeup of our group. I like our character. Are we going to be tested? Absolutely, but I think there is enough character in that room to find a way.”