As competition in the playoffs gets more challenging, the possibility that some 20-yearold Lloydminster Bobcats won't win a league championship in their careers becomes more of a reality.
For some, such as goaltender Alex Leclerc and defenceman Greg Moro, they have been on the other side of the ice watching another team celebrate. Moro did it once with the Humboldt Broncos in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 2013, watching the Yorkton Terriers win the their first of two straight championships.
Leclerc, meanwhile, was the losing goalie the past two seasons with his former Quebec Junior Hockey League team, the Sherbrooke Cougars, who lost the league final in backto-back years to the Grandy Inouk and the Longueuil Collège Français.
“I was lucky enough to participate in two finals in Quebec, but I saw two other teams lift up the Cup in front of me,” said Leclerc. “It's a bittersweet feeling and I want to reverse it and feel the other part of it.”
Defenceman Graydon Smith, won the Gas Drive Cup with Spruce Grove last year and did it in his 18-year-old season. He remains the only player on the Bobcats to have finished a season in the AJHL with a league championship. However, Spruce Grove last season lost all four games at the Western Canada Cup, ending their season on a losing note.
With very few hands on the Bobcats having experienced the excitement of lifting a league championship, the closer they get to the top prize adds a new level of pressure that they haven't experienced before. But even with the chances of losing growing as each round begins, Lloydminster is still feeling this year's team is capable of doing something that has never happened before in the teams history.
“Our team is capable of beating any team in our league,” said team captain and fellow 20year-old Taylor Mulder, who has been with the Bobcats for the past three season.
“I've seen with past 20-year olds that desperation of it being your last season. It's emotional to know it's over if you don't give all your effort. I definitely see myself and the other 20-year olds putting in that extra effort.”
Losing in the final and having to watch another team lift a trophy is a tough pill to swallow, as Leclerc said you question what you could have done the weeks following the loss. It's a feeling he couldn't describe, but one that would put the Bobcats in an awkward position.
A loss now to the Spruce Grove Saints in Round 3 would mean four weeks off before the start of the RBC Cup. That's a lot of time to go over what could have been and what went wrong.
“You always question yourself for at least the first two weeks, trying to figure out, hit your head on the wall to see if you could have done something better as an individual and athlete to be on the other side of the ice when the buzzer sounds,” said Leclerc.
“You never want to end a season with a loss and that is the tough part of hockey because only one team is winning at the end. If you are someone who wakes up every day wanting to win, it's a disappointment at the end.”
For Lloydminster's overage players, it's also about earning their way to the national championship and not sneaking in the back door of the RBC Cup, just because they are the hosts. They want to play the best they can leading up to the national tournament by going through the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the Western Canada Cup, getting as much experience as they can in order to take on the best in Canada.
“We want to prove we are good enough to make it there,” said Mulder. “Winning this next series will prove we are contenders and we are serious about it.”
by Andrew Brethauer