After a grueling seven-game series against the St. Paul Canadiens in Round 1 of the North Eastern Alberta Junior B Hockey League playoffs, the Lloydminster Bandits found themselves quickly eliminated in Round 2, as they were swept by the Wainwright Bisons in four straight games.
The Bisons, considered the top Junior B team in Alberta, scored seven goals in each of the first three games to take a 3-0 series lead before Saturday night’s Game 4 in Lloydminster. After two periods of play the Bandits and Bisons were locked at 2-2, however, an Ambrose Firkus goal in the late minutes of the third gave the Bisons the lead, and an empty net goal by Tiaan Anderson sealed the series.
Saturday night was a playoff effort, according to Bandits head coach Adam Andrew, who felt Lloydminster wasn’t ready for the start of the second round series, and it showed with 21 goals allowed in three games.
“The first three games of this series we didn’t show up and we didn’t compete,” said Andrew. “At least we showed up tonight and competed.”
Against Wainwright, Lloydminster managed eight goals over four games, compared to the 25 going the other way. However, Andrew and the rest of the Bandits management are not panicking over a second-round sweep. It was the first season behind the bench for Andrew, who took over for Jason Newman in the offseason, and it was also the start of what is being called a three- to four-year rebuild of the Bandits organization.
“We got a young group here, we definitely got a couple of veterans as well, and this is my first year with the club, so it is a little bit of a change,” said Andrew. “We are going to make some changes going into next year and just moving forward.
“Big picture, we weren’t expected to win. If you were looking at our regular season stats, we weren’t expected to come out of the first round. Take nothing away from Wainwright, but we made it easy for the first three games.”
For the Bandits, the task in the off-season is to keep moving the ship forward, as Andrew would like to see some younger talent come into the fold and challenge the experienced players already on the team, creating an atmosphere of competition within the group, all fighting for ice time.
For a third year in a row the Cold Lake Ice and Wainwright Bisons will play for the NEAJBHL championship. It is Cold Lake’s fifth straight appearance in the final, as they have won four consecutive league titles, dating back to 2011 when they defeated the Bandits.
Lloydminster last won a league championship in 2010 and 2009, and between 1991 and 2004, won the title 12 times. But now with the Ice and Bisons emerging as the new powerhouses of the NEAJBHL, Andrew said it is time to rebuild the team and change the direction things are heading.
“Cold Lake and Wainwright have taken over the Bandit reputation of being the powerhouse of the league, so it’s a bit of a change for us as an organization,” said Andrew. “We have to take a step back, take a deep breath after losing out and prepare for next season. (The Bandits) are a Class A organization, and now I’m on the inside so I understand why they are.”