For the past three seasons, the Lloydminster Bandit Pipeline Bobcats found themselves in the Alberta Midget Hockey League’s North Division Final.
Only once did they win it, back in 2013-14 with a roster of present day Western Hockey League (WHL) players.
You had names like Shaw, Clague, Koep, Braid and Johnson playing their final season in Lloydminster before heading off to their respective WHL clubs, but it wouldn’t end in the first league championship for a midget AAA team in the Border City, as the Red Deer Chiefs would win the series 3-1, earning their fifth straight AMHL championship.
Then the new crew took over. A young squad of mostly fresh faced former bantam Lloydminster Heat players who had won their age group’s league title in that 2013-14 season. Names like Zane Franklin, Bryce Kindopp and Logan Ganie line the roster, while goaltender Austin McGrath got the nod for the second straight year.
But they fell in the North Final to the Canadian Athletic Club in three straight games.
Perhaps it was the learning tool they needed, as this year’s Bobcats haven’t reached their peak yet despite rolling through the AMHL regular season as league’s best team, and playoffs, losing just one game in two series.
They have been waiting since last Wednesday for the AMHL finals to start after sweeping the Sherwood Park Kings in three games, allowing just one goal all series.
Now they face the Foothills Bisons in the final, with a roster that is a combination of the last three seasons of successful hockey in Lloydminster.
If there is to be a league championship, a final end to the past seasons of disappointment, then this Bobcats team are the ones to do it.
“We’re pretty close to mistake free hockey,” said head coach Travis Clayton. “It helps having Austin in net. He has come up with some big saves for us. The boys are just playing as a team, 20 guys all pieces to the puzzle.”
There was reasons to want both teams from the South Division in the final. The Foothills Bisons are the defending champions, and sometimes you want to take the crown off the king yourself.
Then there was the Calgary Flames, a team the Bobcats knew all too well. Back in that bantam championship winning season it was the Flames the Heat beat in the final. Many of those Flames were on this year’s roster, and got a one up on the Bobcats during the Mac’s Tournament over the Christmas holiday, defeating the Bobcats in the gold medal final.
Either opponent provided a chip on the shoulder of the Bobcats, a reason to get up for the game other than the obvious league finals. Lloydminster got the defending champs.
“You always want to play the defending champions,” said Clayton. “Always nice to knock those guys off. They are a good hockey team down there, too. They work hard and are similar to our hockey team. Works hard, has skill. Any match up is going to be a tough one. We’ll be ready.”