Bobcats optimistic about rebuild

By Jamie Harkins

March 9, 2017 10:49 AM

ROCKY SEASON The 'Cats didn't have the greatest season, but it would seem the club is in a position to build upon any games it saw. FILE LLS PHOTO

The long road to an Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) championship had a bit of a rocky beginning for the Lloydminster Bobcats this past season.
But the final month of the 2016-17 campaign and the growth of the team’s core since action began last August holds promise for the future development of the club. A focus on building upon those gains over the coming months should further cement that move up into the AJHL ranks.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a tough year,” said Bobcats head coach and general manager Travis Clayton.
“We knew it was going to be a rebuild, but we wanted to make the playoffs and go as far as we can. We came up short this year. We had a really good February. The boys really came on in the end. It was just a little too late.”
The Bobcats finished eighth in the AJHL Viterra North Division standings with a 15-42-3 record and five points out of a playoff berth. Five of those wins came in the final full month of the season when the regular squad of 15 rookies and six junior A veterans seemed to find their footing.
“They were just getting into what is called the house, the dirty areas, to score goals,” said Clayton, who also completed his rookie AJHL season as a head coach and general manager in 2016-17 after taking control of the club in late June. “We were playing a lot stronger on our stick and winning battles. I think for a lot of kids moving up to the next level it’s an adjustment, but (it was) a lot longer than I wanted. But I think we have that core group that can play junior hockey now.”
The Bobcats Lloydminster-bred core all came into play during Clayton’s first few months on the job.
The club signed leading scorer Kobe Walker on June 20, top offensive defenceman Daniel Hilsendager on Sept. 12 and traded for AJHL rookie-of-the-year nominee goaltender Austin McGrath on Aug. 12.
Walker, 19, led the team with 17 goals and 40 points in 59 games this season as the Bobcats top-line right wing. Hilsendager, 17, notched six goals and 21 points as a first-pairing defenceman. And McGrath, 19, posted a 3.40 goals-against-average and .908 save percentage in 39 games with the team.
“It’s awesome to see the local boys being able to play junior, but also be very productive,” said Clayton. “All three have had a very good year and have a bright future in junior hockey.”
Clayton said the hope is this core will be back for another season in 2017-18, but the rest of the roster is in flux. He said the team needs to get better and has to secure a playoff spot in 12 months meaning they will need more AJHL capable players to start the next campaign.
It’s “not only trades,” said Clayton. “
“There is a great midget league in this province. There is a lot of talent here, so it is our job as a coaching staff and scouting staff to get out there and recruit these boys to be a Bobcat. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

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