Saturday’s season opener for the Lloydminster Bobcats bantam AAA hockey team wasn’t exactly how they drew up the game to go, let alone the first period.
Lloydminster allowed three goals on 12 shots against the Grande Prairie Storm in a very unwarming welcome to the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL).
The Bobcats would settle in after the first period, giving up one more at the start of the third period, en route to a 4-0 loss, but Lloydminster put aside the opening day loss and rebounded on Sunday, earning a 3-1 victory in the early morning rematch with Grande Prairie.
“Saturday you could tell the boys were a little nervous,” said Bobcats head coach Curtis Johnson.
“They weren’t skating, a little bit scared, holding their sticks a little tight. The first period wasn’t the greatest down 3-0. We responded, guys calmed down and started to play a team game. The second and third was more like our hockey, it was just a little bit too late.”
With lessons in hand for the second game, Seth Hebert redirected a A.J. Mcaulay shot in the second period for a Bobcats 1-0 lead.
After the Storm tied the game on their own redirection midway through the third period, Mcaulay would score the eventual game winner, while Brayden Oster added an empty net goal in the 3-1 victory.
A more team generated effort resulted in a Bobcats victory, the exact style Johnson wants to see moving forward as he guides the young men through their first season of elite level AAA hockey.
“It’s building blocks,” said Johnson. “It’s two games in and we’re not winning a championship right now. It’s about winning in Feburay and March. It’s just making sure guys are doing the little things right, guys are competing hard every shift and not getting too high or too low. The boys responded well and deserved to win.”
Sunday’s victory was also Johnson’s first as a coach at the AAA level, as last season he coached the midget AA team.
So much like his young roster, Johnson has plenty to learn about the elite level game and what his team is capable of in the early portion of the season.
With plenty of inconsistency at the bantam level, Johnson said for the first part of the season it will be about trying to maintain a level of consistency and emotion, while not allowing highs and lows to dictate the pace of the Bobcats game.
“It’s the toughest part of this age is the consistency,” said Johnson. “But that is what makes kids great and what makes kids fall off the map a bit, so that’s the biggest thing for us coaches. And seeing what this league is about as it’s my first time being in bantam AAA. Everything is a learning experience and we’ll keep on learning from this.”
The AMBHL is the first step for a young hockey player to realize his dream in the game, as this season will determine if he is a future Western Hockey League player or has some more work to do in midget.
It’s the added challenge for Johnson, who not only has to worry about the product on the ice, finding roles for every member of the team, but also teaching them what it is to be a professional off the ice and in the game of hockey.
“Character is a huge part,” said Johnson. “It’s all about the character in the dressing room. They know how to win and know how to respond and we’re trying to instill that in these guys on the ice and off the ice. It’s just teaching these kids how to be professionals. It’s their first time in elite hockey and it’s our job to pave the way for this stream of hockey for them.
“It’s a big challenge for us, but we’re the building blocks for hopefully greater things for these kids.”