Lloydminster Bobcats captain Connor Odelein attempts to get around Whitecourt Wolverines defenceman Simon Lavoie during AJHL playoff action at the Centennial Civic Centre on Sunday. JAMIE HARKINS LLS PHOTO
Early power play goals against coupled with the lack of a sustaining offensive attack stopped the Lloydminster Bobcats in the first round of the AJHL playoffs.
The Bobcats fell 3-1 to the Whitecourt Wolverines in Game 3 of the best-of-five opening round series at the Centennial Civic Centre on Sunday evening.
The Wolverines took the first two games 4-2 and 4-0 at the Whitecourt Scott Safety Centre this past Thursday and Friday.
A power play goal against at the seven-minute mark of the series opener, 1:37 into the second game and 1:51 after the puck had been dropped in the final left the Bobcats having to claw back into each of the contests. An inability to win the battle on the shot clock followed with the Wolverines earning a 124-63 advantage over the course of the three games including a 44-24 benefit in the series clincher.
“It’s not a hidden secret in the league that we’re a one-line hockey team,” said Bobcats head coach and general manager Travis Clayton.
“Not that the other guys can’t play in this league. They’re just not high-end offensive guys, but they plug in. I think that was the difference. We (didn’t have) the depth that other teams had and I think next year going forward that’s something we have to do as an organization is get some depth here.”
Wolverines right wing Ben Evanish made Tucker Scantlebury pay for his early indiscretion with a power play marker before Game 3 was two minutes old. The shots were 5-1 in the Wolverines favour by that point, but the Bobcats fought back making for an even back-and-forth contest through the remainder of the opening frame.
“Obviously, it’s tough going behind against Whitecourt,” said Bobcats right wing Kobe Walker. “They got three, four lines that are coming after you hard. They’re not giving you any space. They’re in your head, in your ear chirping. I don’t know. I would like to see what the result would be if we didn’t take the penalties at the start of the games.”
The Bobcats line of Rylan Nivon, Chase Stephenson and Braydon Jenkins seemed to even the contest just over two minutes into the second period, but the goal was called off due to the net being off its moorings.
Jenkins made up for the questionable call by firing a shot through traffic from the faceoff dot at the 6:22 mark past Wolverines goalie Xavier Potvin.
Wolverines right wing Spencer Bast poured on the pressure midway through the frame while his team skated on the man advantage. Bast took position at the side of Bobcats netminder Pierce Diamond’s crease and found a bevy of chances for jam plays only to find an outstretched pad or arm instead of an open cage.
Brayden Labant restored the Wolverines lead about 14 minutes into the middle frame on a wire from just over the blue line that found the high short side. The Bobcats laid everything on the line to start the third period, but a stifling Wolverines defence kept the team from creating any real quality scoring opportunities.
“What we were saying in there was just play as hard as you can until the final buzzer and if we win then awesome,” said Walker. “If we don’t, at least we gave it our all.”
Clayton said the Bobcats didn’t finish where they hoped, but they can still call the season a success. He said a lot of changes have been made in the locker room since the start of the year to bring the right culture to the team, and the feeling is they’re heading in the right direction.
“All 25 guys in that locker room bought in and hats off to them,” said Clayton. “They can be proud of what they did this year. They came a long way as a team and it’s something to build off. It’s something to get excited about for next year.”