The Lloydminster Bobcats are not desperate enough, at a time when they need to be. It is not about needing a victory to snap themselves out of their latest funk, but rather, a mindset they have to start each game with, before they get themselves behind on the scoreboard. And that is something they have been doing a lot lately, as the Bobcats have given up the first goal in each of their past six games.
Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss to Sherwood Park may be the marquee on the growing problem. Lloydminster became desperate for a goal just 20 seconds into the game after Tyler Maltby scored for the Crusaders. Once again, for the sixth-straight game, the Bobcats were playing from behind. And for the fifth time in their past six games, they came out with a loss.
Sooner or later, desperation is going to sink in.
“When the puck drops and we start the game, we need to play desperate hockey,” said head coach Garry VanHereweghe. “Not after the 40-minute mark.”
Ryan Kruper scored the second Crusaders’ goal in the first period, a power play marker, to give Sherwood Park a 2-0 lead. It was a dismal period of hockey, as Lloydminster looked deflated in their effort, as if the shock from the Tyler Kunz and Eric Therrien trades were still on their minds. Taylor Mulder would snap them back into the game with a firstperiod goal, but the Bobcats couldn’t get out of the period with a one-goal gap, as Lane Zablocki added another Crusader goal in the final minute of the period.
Lloydminster had just four shots on net compared to the 13 Sherwood Park put on Devin Green.
The second got slightly better with pucks on net, but not on the scoreboard. Lloydminster put seven shots on Crusaders goalie Zac Klassen, but were held scoreless. Cameron Brezinski would put the Crusaders up by three with an early period tally. After 40 minutes of play, Lloydminster had just 11 shots on net and seemed to be missing the production their traded defencemen brought.
“You got to be ready to play the game when they drop the puck in the first period,” said VanHereweghe. “Mentally, we haven’t been ready to play the game when they drop the puck. We figure when we get down a goal or two we can compete with guys. Most teams, if you give them that opportunity to go up a couple of goals, you are never going to recover, no matter how well you play.”
The third period was an entirely different Lloydminster Bobcats hockey team. It was the second-place Bobcats from just a month ago, a team that could inspire conversation about league championships and RBC Cup runs.
Brett Everson scored on the power play just 49 seconds into the third. Lloydminster did the little things, got to the net, put pucks in front and finished their checks.
Kevin Darrar scored midway through the third, and it looked as if Lloydminster could come from behind.
With a power play in the final three minutes, Green came out of the net and the Bobcats tossed puck after puck at the net, hitting the post once, crossing the wide part of the goal line on another shot.
They outshot the Crusaders 17-2 in the third, but it was too little, too late. Desperation didn’t sink in until four goals had crossed the Bobcats’ goal line.
“It’s a 60 minute game,” said VanHereweghe. “And it’s 60 minutes for a reason. A little bit of a confidence thing, a little bit of a work ethic thing, a little bit of a hangover from the change, but we can’t have excuses. We’re in the same situation as every team we meet right now, and we’ve been giving them the edge early in the game, trying to recover.
“We need to start the game the way we have been finishing games.”
Tuesday night’s game was the start of the second half of the Bobcats’ season. After 30 games they were in second place in the AJHL’s North Division. After the loss, Sherwood Park took over that spot, although, they have played three more games than Lloydminster. A small consolation. Tonight’s game in Drayton Valley will even them with Fort McMurray for games played, the team they are tied with in points at 37 for third place in the division.
Will tonight be a more desperate Bobcats looking to reclaim their second place position?
“You don’t win hockey games playing 20 minutes,” said forward Lucas Biensch. “We got to get more consistent. Our starts have been a little bit weak, our defence zone for sure. At the start of the year, we were probably the best defensive team in the league, and we’ve got away from that. We have to find a way to limit the chances.”
Lloydminster is back at home for the second half of the home-and-away with Drayton Valley on Saturday night. Spruce Grove will be in on Sunday for an afternoon game at 2:30 p.m.