The Lloydminster Bobcats roster is starting to take shape. After Monday night’s intra-squad game, a few more names were removed from the list of potential players who would open the season on Sept. 11 against the Bonnyville Pontiacs, while those who remain will get a shot in a game situation against the very same Pontiacs to show they belong with the club at the start of the regular season.
Lloydminster will travel to Bonnyville tonight for their first preseason game of the year before coming home the following night for a return game with the Pontiacs. It is the same schedule the Bobcats will start their regular season with, as they will start on the road before hosting Bonnyville on Sept. 12 for their home-opener.
While the notion has generally been that preseason games don’t mean that much, to the Bobcats, it is the start of their season. And over the next seven games before the season opener on Sept. 11, the Bobcats will try and make sense of who they have on their roster, so come opening night they are ready to perform.
“You talk to any pro or NHL guy, they take the preseason seriously,” said Bobcats assistant coach Kris Wiebe.
“They start their season then and start knocking the rust off and getting back into game shape. The message would be to compete as hard as we can, take it seriously and play it like any other game.”
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The trip to Bonnyville will be the first time the Bobcats have returned to the town since losing to the Pontiacs in Game 6 in their divisional semifinals playoff series, eliminating the Bobcats from the playoffs. The rivalry is one of the strongest in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) and will only intensify as the seasons draws closer, as past players remember what happened last year in the post-season, while rookies are learning what the rivalry actually means.
“There is still bad blood there and I don’t think the preseason will hinder that in any way,” said forward Patrick Geary. “We are going to make sure all the new guys know that that rivalry is probably one of the biggest in the league and it is going to be heated from preseason on throughout the rest of the season.”
Numbers at this year’s main camp were lower than previous years, but Wiebe said that meant the quality of the the talent pool was that much higher. For the players, it was one of the most competitive camps any had attended in the past, as no position was guaranteed in a season where the Bobcats are guaranteed a spot in the national championship tournament in May 2016.
With no names officially penned in for the opening night roster, the next seven games will see who is ready to compete in the AJHL, and it could be many new faces if they come prepared more for the preseason.
“Just because you were here last year doesn’t mean you are going to be here this year,” said Wiebe. “It’s obviously an important year ... the mentality this year is we want to win and we don’t want to just be a part of the Royal Bank Cup because we are hosting it. We want to earn our way there and that starts in the preseason.”
The stakes are high this season, and the players understand how much pressure they will be under for the upcoming year. Even veterans like Geary, who has played with the Bobcats since 2013, understands that it will be a challenge to make the hockey club.
“Everybody knows what it is on the line and how competitive it is going to be to make this team,” said Geary. “It’s definitely showing on the ice and it is going to carry over into the season. It’s going to be competitive because guys are fighting for that spot who are on the bubble. The pressure is definitely on.
“You are going to see a preseason that mimics the regular season exactly.”