Bobcats can reach the top four

By Jamie Harkins

April 6, 2017 12:00 AM

GO BOBCATS The future of the Lloydminster Bobcats was on display during the Top 40 game at the Centennial Civic Centre on Sunday. JAMIE HARKINS LLS PHOTO

Now that the Lloydminster Bobcats have held its annual spring camp in an attempt to build a future AJHL title-holder, I thought,  dear readers, the idea of what goes into crafting a championship team deserved a few comments from this corner.
Please note I’m just an armchair head coach and general manager since I’ve never coached or managed any team. I have also never played organized hockey, unless the pond variety on the neighbourhood rink after school counts, which I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.
Interestingly enough, these qualifications also make me the ideal sports reporter, since I really don’t know what I’m witnessing and have to ask a lot of questions afterwards.
Since this is a column, I didn’t ask anyone any questions, so take it as you will.
“If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em on the ice,” said Conn Smythe.
I would somewhat agree that this statement still holds true 70 years or so later.
But, what a lot of hockey people in the know seem to preach is skill and speed wins games today. You don’t have to be big and bad to win if you have a few small speedsters like a Johnny Gaudreau or an Erik Karlsson on your club.
The plan is to mold this quick high scoring bunch through years of player development instead of just going all in every year.
I do believe this is true, but I don’t think it works in the junior A ranks.
Players in junior A range from 16 to 20 years old with the majority of the kids aged 18 or 19.
Once the core of a team is in this middle age range, the focus of a junior A club should be winning it all.
For the past two seasons I covered the Estevan Bruins in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL).
The Bruins hosted the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup (WCC) last spring, which is the western leagues’ qualifier for the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Royal Bank Cup that was hosted by the Bobcats.
Chris Lewgood, head coach and general manager of the Bruins, went all in for the WCC,  stacking the team with nine 20 year olds, even though only eight were actually allowed to dress in a game due to SJHL rules.
Lewgood still had a few important returning players for this season, including three offensive dynamos to take over top line duties, a solid second-or-third line centre, a number one defenceman and a possible everyday netminder.
A couple of outstanding trades, included a mid-summer deal with the Drayton Valley Thunder for forwards Jason Miller and Matt McNeil as well as defenceman Zach Sherburne, who was later dealt to the Bobcats, and a big contribution from a few rookies helped the Bruins prove everyone who thought they’d reside near the bottom of the standings this season wrong.
The case for the Bobcats was obviously much different with only one returnee to the club in 2016-17 in Connor Odelein, and a new head coach and general manager in Travis Clayton coming in during the summer.
Clayton almost got this rookie-heavy club to the post-season, just falling short in the final week.
These rookies are going to be one year older and stronger, which should go a long way in getting the Bobcats back into the chase for the Gas Drive Cup. The focus now should be on complementing this 18 and 19-year-old core with some offensively dangerous and hard-nosed veterans.
The window for a championship in the junior A ranks is slim. The Bobcats built the core this past season, so now it’s just a matter of getting the right players to surround them and Lloydminster will have a championship team in 12 short months.

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