BONNYVILLE – At long last, the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs hit the ice for their first game of the 2020/21 season.
Although it was only an exhibition game, it was difficult to determine who was more excited on Oct. 9; the team or the 100 fans that were able to snag tickets to watch the action go down in person.
“It didn’t really feel like an exhibition game out there,” noted centre Kash Rasmussen. “It felt like a regular-season game and it allowed us to finally put the practice into play and I think a lot of guys needed that.”
It was announced on Aug. 14 that the regular season would be postponed, and teams would be entering into developmental seasons, which lasted about a month.
The local Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) had a successful showing against their cohort opponent, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons when they skated away with the 5-4 victory.
Head coach Rick Swan believes part of that was to do with the Pontiacs taking what they learned in that development season into their first couple of exhibition games.
“At this point in any other year, we’ve already played 10 or 12 games, so it felt a little bit more invested for our group because we’ve been together practicing and we should have had some semblance of an identity there,” he detailed. “I guess what it showed us more than anything is that this time in any other year we’d have a baseline and I think that game was about establishing a baseline.”
Pontiac Bruce MacGregor agreed with his coach.
“Like we said in the dressing room after the game, it set the bar for ourselves. We have high expectations going in and we’re just going to continue to build off this one.”
Unfortunately, the team wasn’t able to continue that success when they fell to the Oil Barons the following evening.
First win for the Pontiacs
The Pontiacs first time out onto the ice since last season saw them get the 5-4 win at the R.J. Lalonde Arena against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
It was Alex Power who put the home team on the scoreboard first with less than 10 minutes into the first period.
The Oil Barons quickly answered with one of their own, tying the game up at one a piece.
The only point during the second frame went to the Pontiacs when Cole Corpse snuck the puck past Fort McMurray’s goalie to take the lead 2-1.
The final period saw Pontiac Cole Wyatt with an unassisted goal, quickly followed by Power’s second point of the evening.
Although the Oil Barons managed to find the back of the Pontiacs’ net, the final point of the game went to Rasmussen to solidify their 5-4 win.
“I tried to catch the goalie off guard a bit and I didn’t really mean to score,” Rasmussen recalled. “The goalie was kind of sleeping on it, so I got lucky there.”
A stand out of the game for MacGregor was the younger players coming in to prove themselves.
“We had eyes on these guys for a while when we recruited them and I thought all of them came in, played well, and really made a good first impression on the group,” he noted.
Swan added, “Knowing that if this is where we are with a really good crop of young guys, I think we can get optimistic about where we can be in terms of areas of growth that we can address that we learn from.”
Oil Barons bounce back
The Pontiacs missed the bar they’d set for themselves on Oct. 10 when they fell 5-0 against Fort McMurray.
The Oil Barons came out of the locker room hot in the first, scoring three of their goals within the first frame.
The teams were evenly matched during the second with neither adding a point to the score sheet during the second.
The home team fought to get their first point of the evening, but the night didn’t go their way. Fort McMurray found the back of the Pontiacs’ goal twice before the final buzzer blew to get the 5-0 win.
With their first couple of exhibition games behind them, the Pontiacs will now head to enemy territory to face off against the Oil Barons.
According to Swan, the Pontiacs will be in a cohort with Fort McMurray until the end of October and are waiting to hear what will happen next.
“We’re still hopeful because our league is in conversations with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to expand the two team cohorts during the months while we’re playing Fort McMurray. It could be before the end of the month that we now jump into more teams,” he said, adding there’s also discussions about increasing the number of fans who can attend games.
“If we can prove that we can safely distance and do it in a manner that will minimize any risk of spreading COVID-19 to one another by being in our building. We’re pretty hopefully only for the fact that it’s sitting on the desk of the people that are making the decisions.”
At the end of the day, Swan and the Pontiacs are simply excited to be playing the game that they love.
“That’s the most important thing, is that we’re playing in our sport in a world that’s turned upside down so it’s just a real humbling and grateful feeling that we’re doing that.”
The Pontiacs are back on home ice on Wednesday, Oct. 21 against the Oil Barons. Puck drop is 7 p.m.