Hockey can simply be about getting hot at the right time and for Lloydminster’s junior B team, they may have picked the best time to begin playing their best hockey of the season.
Winners of their last six games, the Lloydminster Bandits have pulled away from the bottom of the pack in the North Eastern Alberta Junior B Hockey League and solidified their fifth place spot in the division. It’s a great time to be part of the junior club, who have turned the tide on a season that was suppose to be a rebuild with a new coach and new leadership, but now through new effort, it’s giving the Bandits some thoughts of moving deep into the playoffs.
“We are consistently working, which has probably been the biggest turn around,” said head coach Adam Andrew. “They are putting some effort into it and getting rewarded with some wins. Guys in the locker room are taking some ownership.”
Prior to the six game winning streak the Bandits were one game above .500 on the season. They had lost their first three out of four in the new year, and were heading slowly down the standings, rather than catching the top four and a possible home playoff game.
Andrew, who is just 32 games into his junior B coaching career, said it was a combination of a lot of new things happening with the Bandits, systems changing on the ice, and the loss of some big leaders from last year.
However, now the Bandits are having new leaders step up in place of the old, include captain Anthony Regnier, who has an 11-game scoring streak on the line heading into Lloydminster’s Friday night game in Cold Lake, where he as scored 16 goals and 32 points in that span. He leads the Bandits with 27 goals scored on the season and is second on the team in points with 52. Assistant captain Brody Pollard leads with 56 points, 41 of those being helpers.
The goal scoring has seemed to rub off on everyone, as over the past six games the Bandits have outscored their opponents 37-8, while in their last four the Bandits have allowed one goal or fewer in their victories.
“We brought in a new defensive zone structure which is not well oiled right now, but it is coming along,” said Andrew. “Our goaltending has been really strong as well and has made some timely saves. We are trying to activate our forwards to get them activated on the back pressure as well. It just really comes down to the guys showing up and putting on the work boots every night.”
But despite success now, Andrew still believes the Bandits have to switch it two more gears if they want to be a championship team and defeat the top teams such as Wainwright, Cold Lake and St. Paul.
Lloydminster currently sits in fifth in the league, just four points back of Killam. With four games remaining, Andrew believes the Bandits would have to win out in order to leap the Wheat Kings for fourth, and it would still result in the two teams meeting in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite Killam having a 13-1-2-1 home record, Andrew said he would be confident in the Bandits ability to get past them in the playoffs, as both games in Killam went to overtime, while a 5-4 loss in earlier this month was a come from behind victory for the Wheat Kings.
So with a playoff matchup fairly set, the message over the last four games of the season is simply to play consistent hockey, and not just be satisfied with what has happened in the past six.
“When teams get on a nice roll like this they get content and take the foot off the pedal,” said Andrew. “The message is don’t be content where we are now, let’s keep striving to get better because we are going to need to be on top of our game.”
Lloydminster is on the road this weekend, first in Cold Lake on Friday before heading to Saddle Lake on Saturday. Their last home game of the season is next Friday against Wainwright.