Bobcats goaltender Bailey Brkin made 33 saves in his team’s 3-1 win against the Oil Barons at the Centennial Civic Centre on Saturday night. Brkin was named AJHL Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. JAMIE HARKINS LLS PHOTO
The Lloydminster Bobcats are continuing to pick up their game as the AJHL playoffs approach.
The Bobcats (19-27-2) moved one point ahead of the Bonnyville Pontiacs (16-25-7) for sixth place in the Viterra AJHL North Division standings with a hard-fought 3-1 win against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (33-10-3) at the Centennial Civic Centre on Saturday.
A strong defensive performance from both the Bobcats’ forward and defence groups as well as an outstanding showing from the team’s newest star between the pipes helped the club capture that elusive first regulation-time win versus the Oil Barons.
“Our D core did a great job keeping them to the outside,” said Bobcats head coach and general manager Travis Clayton. “We had backside pressure on them and when we did make some mistakes, Bailey (Brkin) was there for a big save. It was a great team effort.”
After neither team seemed able to generate much offensively in the first 18 minutes of the contest, Bobcats left wing Brock Sottile brought the crowd to its feet with a spin-a-rama backhand from the slot that ricocheted off a leg in front.
Sottile got a second opportunity to open the scoring 30 seconds later thanks to a setup in tight from Rylan Nivon, only to find the pad of Oil Barons netminder Chris Curr.
It took another 19 minutes of scoreless action before Bobcats centre Zach Kaiser lit the lamp for the game’s first marker in the final minute of the second period.
The Oil Barons out shot the Bobcats 26-15 through the opening 40 minutes, but they couldn’t beat Brkin despite a few quality chances in close, including a backhand by JC Thivierge with 30 seconds remaining in the middle frame.
Clayton said Brkin has done everything that has been expected of him since coming to the team early last week following an AJHL trade deadline deal with the Brooks Bandits. He said Pierce Diamond and Brkin are pushing each other for minutes, which should bring out the best in both goalies.
Oil Barons left wing Merritt Oszytko finally solved Brkin 49 seconds into the third period on a shot from the point through traffic that changed direction a few times before finding the back of the net.
Bobcats centre Braydon Jenkins provided a reply on the power play about eight minutes later on a wire from the hash marks.
“I knew that I had time,” said Jenkins. “I followed (Reid) Irwin into the middle and I knew that if I walked up and kept my head up that I would have a good chance. Luckily it went in.”
The Oil Barons couldn’t muster another good chance to even the score throughout the remaining 11 minutes.
Kaiser finally salted the win away with an empty netter at the 19:57 mark.
“We didn’t let them attack in our defensive zone with speed,” said Clayton. “We clogged it up to disrupt them and I thought we did things right. We didn’t sit back. We got pucks in deep. We took it to them in the offensive zone.”
The win marked the Bobcats’ third straight following a 4-1 victory against the Sherwood Park Crusaders (22-22-2) in front of 1,400 screaming kids during Hockey Hooky Day on Jan. 24 and another 4-1 pasting of the Drayton Valley Thunder (11-33-3) on the road Friday night.
“Every day we come to the rink and we get better,” said Jenkins. “We have confidence against teams like (the Oil Barons) and we showed it tonight.”