Tough year for male hockey

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January 24, 2017 8:36 AM

ON THE BOARDS It's been a difficult year for the male Lloydminster minor hockey elite AAA teams this season, as a high turnover rate at the midget level and players leaving for academies left the cupboards bare for a season and it's showing in the standings. ANDREW BRETHAUER LLS PHOTO

Hockey in the Border City is having a tough year when compared to seasons prior.
At the junior level, the Lloydminster Classic Oilfield Bandits are the only team of all the men’s teams to have an above .500 record, while the Lloydminster Bobcats junior A club has spent every week this season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in last place.
Meanwhile, at the elite level in minor hockey, Lloydminster’s AAA hockey clubs have had their own struggles this season, as between the midget Bobcats, minor midget Rage and bantam Bobcats, they have 15 wins between them in 78 games.
But while this season is seeing plenty of struggles, the root cause of those struggles is past success, as last year the junior A Bobcats and midget AAA Bobcats both played in national tournaments and were incredibly skilled teams.
And because of those skilled teams, many players are no longer playing in Lloydminster this season because they have made their way to the school teams, the Western Hockey League or the AJHL, something coaches of the elite teams have said is something that should be celebrated, even if this year, the records aren’t the greatest.
“We need to be proud of that,” said bantam Bobcats head coach Curtis Johnson.
“We’re going to go through those rocky patches,” he said, adding next year should be a great year.
“People need to chill out and realize we are doing our job.”
Of the 23 players who made up the junior A Bobcats, only one returned from that team that finished second at the RBC Cup.
They needed an entire overhaul to get ready for this season, which also included a new head coach in Travis Clayton, who left the midget AAA team to take a role with the junior A club.
That midget AAA team, under Clayton, won the Alberta Midget Hockey League last year for the first time in franchise history and earned a spot at the Telus Cup, another franchise first, finishing just outside the medal positions.
Most of the players on that team were already drafted to the WHL, while others had made commitments to the AJHL to keep their school eligibility.
Fast forward to this season, every player on that team is now either in the WHL or AJHL, as not a single player returned to the midget club, leaving new midget Bobcats head coaches Cole Fischer and Mike Applegate with the challenge of building a team from scratch, which at the minor hockey league, is generally unheard of.
The Rage are used to the overturn every single year, but they are also missing some players who selected hockey academies over staying home, while the bantam Bobcats are in the same predicament, as some of their best talent are at hockey academies rather than in a Bobcats jersey, which is having a direct result on their play in the Alberta bantam league.
“What can you do when you have 17 rookies on your team,” said chairman of the elite hockey board Riley Fletcher.
“You don’t want to look at the wins right off the bat, you want to look at, are the kids progressing year to year and getting better.”
Of course, most people look at the standings as a measure of success, but the elite board and its coaches don’t judge success on how many wins they have or points in the standings, but rather on how many kids they are moving on to the next level.
Today, rinks in the WHL are filled with Lloydminster players, as the Border City had a boom of players that were drafted to the major junior league, while the junior A Bobcats have more local talent this season than they have had in quite some time.
And while Lloydminster probably won’t be winning any championships this season and playoff runs may be short or non-existent, players will continue to improve and get drafted and the future will continue to look bright for minor hockey.
“We keep our development high so we can keep producing kids like that,” said Fletcher.
“That’s what we base all our decisions on is developing for success,” he said.
“It’s not necessarily winning. You should win because you’re developing.”

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