Bobcats keeping it local

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August 16, 2016 8:52 AM

Austin McGrath is back in a 'Cats uniform after being traded from the Spruce Grove Saints to the Lloydminster Bobcats for Brett Smythe. The deals brings him back together with his former coach and teammates.

When the Lloydminster Bobcats announced the trade with the Bonnyville Pontiacs for Chasetan Braid, it wasn’t just a deal that brought a player with Western Hockey League (WHL) experience to the team — it was one that brought in another local player.
The same can be said when they added goaltender Austin McGrath in a trade in Spruce Grove on Firday.
Along with Tre Doyon, Tristan Petrie, Kobe Walker and Jaxan Kaluski, who all played for the Lloydminster Bobcats midget AAA hockey team last season, Braid and McGrath become the fifth- and sixth players the Bobcats have acquired over the off-season that has a local connection.
The Bobcats have seemingly set a mandate over the off-season that the team will now be a place where local talent stays to play, as the amount of signings over the summer has kept many local players and coaches in very familiar territory.
But new Bobcats head coach Travis Clayton is adamant that he isn’t filling a roster spot with a local player for the sake of doing it, they have to be able to play at the junior A level.
“If the locals can play you want them to be here,” said Clayton. “The guys we have signed, we think they can play. You want to have local guys, but you don’t just want local guys just to have local guys. They have to be able to play junior A hockey. If we can keep the local ones around, that is what we want.”
Braid, a native of Chauvin, Alta., played his AAA hockey career in Lloydminster, starting with the bantam Heat in 2011-12. After going undrafted in the WHL Bantam Draft, he played a season with the minor midget Rage hockey team and then a season with the Lloydminster Bobcats midget team, where he caught the eye of the Saskatoon Blades who signed the forward and had him in the lineup the following season.
After a season with Sasktoon, Braid split last year between the Blades and Kamloops Blazers before moving to the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) and the Pontiacs.
He now will put on the Bobcats jersey again, albeit, in the AJHL as a 19-year-old for the upcoming season.
“I saw him play midget hockey and I liked what I saw and he came available,” said Clayton.
“He’s a veteran, played junior hockey, local guy, and I just think he needs a second chance and a fresh start,” he said.
“We’re a young team and don’t have too many returning players so when you can add a guy like Chasetan, it’s a no brainer.”
McGrath, who was the starting goalie on Clayton’s midget AAA Bobcats team that won the Alberta Midget Hockey League last year and went to the Telus Cup, has already logged three games in the AJHL with Sherwood Park before moving to Spruce Grove.
His run in the playoffs for the midget Bobcats shows shutout after shutout, leading his team to its first national championship appearance.
Lloydminster drew criticisms last season by former players and fans during the Royal Bank Cup for not having local players on the team, playing in the biggest games in the franchises history.
There was a disassociation with the club, as Lloydminster made numerous trades and signings over the course of the season that brought in brand new faces, yet there was little time for them to make a connection with the hometown crowd due to a shorten playoff run after the Bobcats were eliminated in the third round.
Now it would seem that with Clayton at the helm, a coach who has spent the past three seasons coaching Lloydminster’s elite male hockey teams to league championships at the bantam and midget levels, the Bobcats will look first to their roots before branching outside the community.
But Clayton said it isn’t as easy as just picking up every local player from the midgets and carding them, as some players want to move away from home and try something new.
And while local players may bring fans to the game, if they can’t play, no one is going to be happy seeing one-sided scorers with the Bobcats on the wrong end.
“(Fans) aren’t going to be happy seeing games 6-2, 7-1 and 20 local guys on your team,” said Clayton.
“And sometimes local kids don’t want to play in Lloydminster. They want to get out and there is nothing you can do about that,” he said.
“We are fortunate to have six guys who want to play here.
“It’s a tough thing, people don’t realize how hard it is to keep locals because maybe you want them, but the kid wants to go and experience junior A away from home. People don’t realize all the inside things.”

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