The Lloydminster Bobcats want to play the best teams.
At the RBC Cup tournament, there will be league champions across the country vying for the opportunity to lift the junior A national championship.
That’s why they’re not shying away from their North Division Final opponent, the two-time defending champion Spruce Grove Saints. Because unlike any team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) or the Canadian Junior Hockey League for that matter, Lloydminster knows that, win or lose, they still have hockey to play against very competitive teams after this series is over.
“You want to play the best teams,” said Bobcats coach Gord Thibodeau. “I want us to play Spruce, I want us to have a tough series and experience what that is like. When you play the best team it forces you to up your game and it is going to tell us what we need to do. It’s important to get as much big game experience as we can for this group.”
The Saints, for all statistical reasons, have been the best team in the AJHL for the better part of the last decade. In that time they have won four Gas Drive Cups and appeared in two other finals.
They have held also held complete control of the North Division, earning the top spot for the past eight consecutive years, while this year marked the third straight season, and sixth in the last eight, that Spruce Grove has won the Dave Duchak Trophy as the AJHL’s regular season champions.
Add in the individual awards and the ability for the Saints to get their players recruited to top level colleges and universities, it’s no shame for anyone to say that Spruce Grove is a franchise in which to emulate.
Lloydminster has done their best to build a formidable opponent, one that doesn’t have just AJHL aspirations this season, but national ones as well. They set records for wins and points in a season and the third round playoff appearance is only the second time in franchise history Lloydminster has made it to that round.
During the regular season, the series between the Bobcats and Saints was split 3-3, with three being decided by a single goal. It’s a strong indication that the series could go seven games, something Thibodeau would be fine with, seeing as it would give the Bobcats more experience in pressure situations.
And for the Bobcats, it’s another challenge in a season that has been filled to the rim with them, with plenty more to come in what they hope is their first league final appearance, en route to their first league championship.
“Them and hopefully Brooks after, we want the best and want to beat the best,” said Bobcats defenceman Greg Moro. “Whitecourt was supposed to be a struggle and we walked all over them. So we’re looking forward to taking on any challenge and making this a year to remember.”
A match up with Spruce Grove means Lloydminster will have to go through the best in order to reach the final. There is no sneaking through the back door to take the crown the Saints have worn for the past two seasons. And with the RBC Cup a little over a month away, there is plenty of reasons to want a seven game series and to eliminate a very good from RBC Cup contention.
“The way we felt is we would have to go through them in order to win,” said Thibodeau. “The last men standing is us and Spruce.”
Game 1 and 2 are in Spruce Grove on Friday, followed by Game 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday at the Civic Centre.