The Lloydminster Bobcats fought through a suspension, injuries to three key players, and a middle-of-the-night bus breakdown to grind out a 2-1 overtime loss against the rival Camrose Kodiaks at the Encana Arena on Saturday night.
“It just shows the character in that locker room,” said Bobcats head coach and general manager Travis Clayton. “They stuck together. They gave 100 per cent effort and just about got rewarded with two points.”
The Bobcats (9-17-2) entered Saturday’s contest with only 15 skaters due to Mike MacLean serving the second game of his two-game suspension, an injury to Cole Johnson suffered in the team’s 2-1 win versus the Spruce Grove Saints on Nov. 22 and the deletion of captain Connor Odelein and forward Braydon Jenkins from the lineup after the pair went down with injuries in the team’s 5-2 loss at the Drumheller Dragons (16-11-1) the night before.
If that wasn’t enough, forward Carson Franklin suffered an injury on his first shift against the Kodiaks (8-13-6) leaving the Bobcats with only 14 skaters.
“The key to those situations when you don’t have very many guys is you have to have short shifts, go out there, give her, go hard for 30-40 seconds tops and come off,” said Bobcats forward Chase Stephenson. “It was a challenge, but everyone stuck to it. We stuck together and although we lost that game, I think we really played together as a team and put forth a pretty good effort.”
The Bobcats plan after the Friday night game in Drumheller was to bus back to Lloydminster before heading back onto the road on Saturday afternoon for the 7 p.m. start against the Kodiaks.
That did happen, but a bus breakdown on the side of the road made the trip back home early Saturday morning a bit of an adventure.
Stephenson said a loud ringing noise started to emanate from the front of the bus a couple of hours after they left Drumheller and they had to pull over. He said the team then had to wait three hours for another bus from Lloydminster to arrive and pick them up.
It was approaching 7 a.m. when the players were finally able to crawl into bed with their wakeup call coming at 11:30 a.m. due to their embark onto a bus bound for Camrose scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
“It was an interesting time, for sure,” noted Stephenson. “Everyone was pretty tired and running awful. Some of the guys could sleep on the bus. Bigger guys like myself, it’s pretty tough to squeeze in there and get yourself comfortable. So some of the guys are running off four-and-a-half hours sleep or even three. Some couldn’t sleep once they got home.
“But, with that effort we put forth in Camrose I think no one can underestimate the character of this team. We didn’t want to have any excuses for what went on in that game.”
Bobcats centre Rylan Nivon opened the scoring 2:02 into the second period with Kodiaks forward Nicholas Sutter providing a reply at the 16:34 mark of the third. Kodiak Brock Bremer scored the game winner with one second remaining in the extra frame.
Nick Sanders stopped 42 Kodiaks shots in the loss, while Griffin Bowerman made 22 saves for the win.
“It was kind of back and forth,” said Stephenson. “I really feel like we limited their shots to the outside, didn’t give them any good opportunities and when we did give them opportunities Sanders was there to make a huge stop for us.”
The Bobcats are back in the friendly confines of the Centennial Civic Centre this Friday night against the Saints (20-5-2) in the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss game. The club will welcome the AJHL’s top-ranked Okotoks Oilers (23-2-1) to town on Saturday night.
“Our compete level has been there for about a half-a-dozen games now and that will continue,” said Clayton. “I’m excited for this weekend to see where we are against two really good hockey teams.”