From where the Lloydminster Bandits started in camp to where they are now is night and day. They still have yet to beat the Wainwright Bisons, the top team in the North Eastern Junior B Hockey League (NEJBHL), but progress is being made on the ice.
Lloydminster dropped a close 4-3 decisions to the Bisons on Friday night, a stark contrast to their first game of the season on Oct. 2 where Wainwright scored seven in a one-sided 7-1 victory. Since then, despite some ups and downs, the Bandits have found the compete level needed to play with the best in the league and with plenty of hockey left this season, are in the thick of the division standings.
“If you look at it from the first game we played against Wainwright to now, a huge difference,” said assistant coach Grant Friesen. “We were in this game down to the last minute. We have come a long way in our own end. Guys are starting to buy in to what we are preaching to them.”
The loss on Friday snapped the Bandits two game winning streak, which saw Lloydminster earn 5-1 and 4-2 victories over Saddle Lake. Prior to those victories, the Bandits were caught in a rut, dropping six straight after starting the season 4-1.
Lloydminster has been everywhere in the standings, from a top spot in the early goings of the season to the basement after their string of losses. With a record dangling around .500, only four to six points separates the Bandits from the top four in the league, so there isn’t much standings watching going on right now, but rather putting the focus onto the ice and what they can control.
“You try to not even look at it and focus on the game in front of you,” said Friesen. “You can’t get caught up in what is going on in the standings. Things are all over the map so you just try and take it one game at a time and focus on our game.”
While their neutral zone and defensive play has increased, Friesen said the team is still working on unforced errors and not trying to push a pass into a spot the puck can’t go. Too many times, said Friesen, the Bandits would try a cross-ice pass with two players in the lane, rather than chipping the puck into the zone and playing aggressive along the boards.
But with their game taking a sharp turnaround over the course of the last two months of hockey, Lloydminster is looking at themselves as a team that could once again be a spoiler down the stretch, and a team not to be taken lightly when games matter most.
“We have come a long ways and if we keep progressing the way we are, I think we can be dangerous down the stretch for sure.”