BONNYVILLE – The Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs’ last game of 2021 was one of physicality and intensity.
Unfortunately, it also came with a sliver of heartbreak for the home team, who lost 2-1 against the Lloydminster Bobcats on Thursday night at the RJ Lalonde Arena.
A slow start from the Pontiacs left the door open for the Lloydminster team to pull ahead early in the game. The Bobcats gained ground the Pontiacs would not be able to make up before the final buzzer sounded.
Even though the Pontiacs made every moment of the second and third period count, they were unable to match both of the Bobcats’ goals scored in the first period.
The Lloydminster team took advantage of an early game power play, putting up their first point in the first four minutes of the game. The Bobcats would score again less than five minutes later.
The score would remain the same until the last two minutes of the third period.
“Our first period we didn't play the way we needed to play and so we were playing from behind the entire time afterwards,” said Neil Langridge, the Pontiacs’ assistant general manager and coach.
In a situation when players are putting in their all and still not seeing the success they are hoping for, Langridge explained, “It's all about making sure that we keep their mindset where it needs to be, and that’s just foot on the gas pedal the entire time.”
He acknowledged the previous night’s win may have led the players to underestimate their opponent heading into the game.
“I thought we had maybe a little too much of a chip on our shoulder after having a good game in Lloydminster beating them 4-0 at their rink... We came in and we might have thought that things were going to be a little bit easier – they weren't. (The Bobcats) came out and they executed their game plan.”
On Dec. 29, the Pontiacs had defeated the Lloydminster team on the Bobcats’ home ice where the Pontiacs' goalie Matthew Henessy had an incredible 60-minute game in net earning his first AJHL shutout of the season.
The Pontiacs would not see the same level of success the following night, even though the team put up 46 shots compared to the Bobcats’ 27 shots on net.
“I was proud of the team for the response in the second and third period. In two periods, we only gave up six shots to the Lloydminster Bobcats. So, we played how we wanted to, but their goaltender played well. It was just too little too late, but that's the rigors of a season. We have 22 more games left and it's about learning these lessons now so that when we get to the playoffs, we know how to execute,” said Langridge.
Coming into each period, fans could see a difference in the energy the home team brought to the ice. The second period was arguably the most physically charged as the Bobcats refused to give up their lead.
In the second period, the Pontiacs accrued 22 penalty minutes, giving their opponents seven power play opportunities as well as a 5-on-3 power play.
Despite being shorthanded for the bulk of the period, the Pontiacs were able to keep the puck out of their net.
“Frustration starts to set in a little bit, and we took a couple of penalties... It's hard to get any flow to a hockey game when you're constantly killing penalties, especially for some players that don't get a lot of special teams plays. So, it's about keeping a cool even head the entire time,” said Langridge.
“We let our emotions get the best of us and we started digging ourselves into a hole, but our penalty kill was tremendous tonight. We did an unbelievable job of killing five penalties... It's something to build off going forward,” he added.
Taking advantage of the only penalty received by the Bobcats in the last period, the Pontiacs were able to score their first goal of the night, which also happened to be in the last two minutes of the game.
Stationed in front of the crease, Charlie Russell scooped the puck into the Bobcats’ net after receiving the puck from Alex Power and Alex Atwill.
The crowd went wild. With a minute left in the game, the audience was on the edge of their seats hoping the game would make it into overtime. To the crowd's dismay, the buzzer would sound before the Pontiacs had a chance to tie the score.
“Those games where they’re so tight and we play so hard but we still lose are the ones that hurt the most,” Pontiacs’ forward Austin Saint told Lakeland This Week, looking noticeably disappointed following the game.
“We are just going to bounce back, and you know we (have) got to be better. Our start has got to be better so we're just going to focus on that... We knew that they were going to come out hard after coming off a loss. We just didn't match that and that's why they scored two goals in the first.”
Speaking to the highlights of the game Saint said, “Getting that goal at the end gave us some light. We needed that one but unfortunately, we weren't able to get another one. So not too many great moments in that game, but we just got to be better... We're pretty unstoppable when we all start clicking and I think you could see it in the last few minutes there, we were pretty dominant.”
Thanking the fans that supported the team in 2021, Langridge said “We look forward to seeing everybody and some great hockey in 2022.”
The Pontiacs will take on the Drayton Valley Thunder on Jan. 4 at 7 p.m. at the RJ Lalonde Arena.
The Pontiacs sit in fourth place overall in the AJHL, with 24 wins, nine loses and five overtime loses so far this season.