The Lloydminster Junior A Bobcats wrapped up their Main Camp on Sunday, with the annual Orange versus Black Game at the Centennial Civic Centre.
Seventy to eighty players were competing for spots on the team at camp over the weekend. Friday evening games kicked-off camp training with the first of 9 scrimmages over the course of 2 days.
By the time Sunday’s intra-squad game rolled around, the rosters had been cut almost in half, with the top 40 players invited to play in the game.
“You go into camp knowing that we’ve got to make some decisions and obviously, some guys played pretty well tonight, and there’s been a couple pleasant surprises here, certainly as far as offence goes…we’ve certainly got some talent up front,” says Bobcats Assistant Coach, Kris Wiebe.
Team Orange started off hot, scoring 6 goals in the first period, but they seemed to come out flat in the 2nd, adding only 1 more goal, and allowing Team Black to make some headway. Team Black scored the only goal of the 3rd, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap. 7-3 was the final.
A second round of roster cuts followed the game. The remaining players will get another chance to show the coaching staff their stuff on the ice when the 2016-17 team plays its first exhibition game Wednesday, August 31, against the Pontiacs in Bonnyville. Then the Pontiacs will venture to the Bobcats’ home ice Friday, September 2.
“These guys have had a long weekend. I think this is probably 6 ice times now and they’ve been playing against each other for the whole weekend. I think the big test will be on Wednesday, our first real exhibition game, against another team… I think [it] will tell a story, and Friday again, and as we move on we’ll start to see a little bit of ‘some guys are rising and some guys are falling.’ So as of tonight, I thought the pace was probably the best we’ve had all weekend.”
The team has seen a lot changes in the past few months, for players and staff alike. Since May, the team has moved around some 15 players, including Kaluski, Jaxan, Ree, Quillan, Santoro, Nemes, Bacon, Brewster, and Walker. In terms of staff, Gord Thibodeau resigned from his head coaching position, Garry VanHereweghe swapped positions with the team then left altogether, Travis Clayton signed on initially as Assistant Coach but was then bumped to Head Coach upon Thibodeau’s departure, and Taylor Holt was named Assistant Coach and Assistant GM. So the summer months have seen quite a rebuild for the Bobcats.
Just prior to main camp weekend, on August 24, Clayton announced that forward, Eric Benshadle (’96), was traded to the Spruce Grove Saints in exchange for future considerations. Benshadle had played 20 regular season games for the Bobcats in 2015-16, registering eight goals and nine assists. With all the unrest, Wiebe is still hopeful the mostly fresh-faced team will find their stride together.
“I think you’ve seen a little bit of chemistry here tonight and throughout the weekend. Really, every year you start over, whether you’ve got returning guys or not, you’re always looking for chemistry. Unless you can ice a team for 2 or 3 years in a row and guys play together for that long, there’s always changes, there’s new faces, and new bodies. In this league especially, you know, in junior hockey, guys are moving on and graduating because of age and whatever. So that part of it isn’t really new, it’ll be maybe some learning curve as far as experience goes, but certainly, we’ve got some top-end recruits here, I think. And maybe those learning curves are going to be a little bit shorter, hopefully, than we’re expecting.”
Other moves made to the team in the last couple weeks included 3 announcements regarding player acquisitions and further changes to the staff. Lloydminster-native, goaltender, Austin McGrath was brought back home from the Spruce Grove Saints in exchange for forward, Brett Smythe.
The 18-year-old, best known for his size and technique, was on the losing side of things on Sunday at Camp. McGrath is already known to current Head Coach and GM of the Bobcats, as he played for Clayton’s Midget AAA team last season, and was a huge asset to the Bandit Pipeline Bobcats. The net-minder was undeniably a key ingredient to the team’s success in the spring; for instance, he earned 6 shutouts in his 9 playoff starts, 5 of which were consecutive, posting 263 minutes of shutout hockey, and leading the team to the Telus Cup Nationals in April.
As well, the team dealt newly acquired goaltender, Josh Dechaine, to the La Ronge Ice Wolves of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for future considerations. Wiebe says the team was able to get some of the guys they had been gunning for in the spring camp and throughout the summer: in fact, more guys than they thought they would get to sign, but Wiebe describes it as a nice surprise and a good problem to have. He also assures that the team is in no way complete, saying that Travis has been on the phone in talks with guys that may or may not come back due to Western Hockey League commitments.
“You always have that, every year…there’s going to be moves and that’s why there are deadlines all the way up to January 10th. Certainly, we’ve got to keep in consideration that there’s the possibility of people coming back, and where they slot in. Some guys are going to play themselves in, and play themselves out, but you’ve got to keep that in the back of your mind too that there’s probably a few bodies that are going to become available to us.”
When asked about any stand-out players from the Orange versus Black Game, Wiebe doesn’t offer any specific names but says, “I think we had a couple guys that we knew were going to play really well. Yeah, there was a few that stuck out in my mind, pleasantly, that you know, you expect them to kind of come in at one level and you can see that they’ve put the work in over the summer, and really elevated their game to that next level, which is nice. Again, we’ll see how it plays out against another AJHL opponent, rather than in our main camp.”
Additionally, the organization has finalized its Hockey Operations staff. Dean Moisan will be the team’s new Director of Player Personnel and Lance Achtymichuk will fill the vacant Head Scout position.
Achtymichuk currently resides in Edmonton and has gained experience scouting for the CJHL. Moisan, on the other hand, is going into his second season with the team, after having been the Head Scout last year.
These changes follow the resignation of former Head Coach, Garry VanHereweghe, who recently left his role as the Director of Player Personnel.