On Sunday morning the Lloydminster Bobcats and St. Albert Raiders held identical records. By the evening the Border City team had sole possession of first place in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League.
In the 5-4 loss to the Bobcats at Akinsdale Arena the Raiders pulled to within a goal halfway through the third period. Despite furious pressure — they limited the Bobcats to four shots and had a couple of golden opportunities late in the game, it wasn't meant to be for the Raiders.
“I thought early we were a little tentative but as the game went on we got better,” said head coach Sandro Pisani. “It could've gone either way. We had a real good charge in the third period and pretty much controlled it, but couldn't find that late goal.
“It was a good game. At the end of the day they're a good team but we know we can be better.”
Troy Bourke hit the crossbar with 2:30 remaining in the game and with 20 seconds left, Shane Brolly one-timed a shot off the side of the net on a feed from Bourke behind the cage.
“Bourkey gave me a nice pass and I couldn't bury her. I was thinking low glove, but just missed it,” Brolly said.
Liam Liston and Brad Miller combined to turn aside 20 shots while Tyler Briggs stopped 21 for the Bobcats. The Bobcats were one-for-four on the power play and the Raiders scored twice on five chances.
“There were a couple letdowns but it was a decent game. They're a good club,” Brolly said. “We knew it was going to be a big game going in but we didn't have the start we wanted. We woke up halfway through the first and I’m not sure if it was jitters or what.”
The Bobcats struck first at 7:20, as Kenney Morrison picked Liston's glove corner on the power play.
Late in the period, Kevin Lacroix was sprung on a breakaway by Matt Benning and he tucked the puck through Briggs' five-hole.
The Bobcats recovered the lead 22 seconds into the middle frame, when Jetlan Houcher whacked home a bouncing puck.
The Raiders pulled even at 6:37 on a weird bounce off the sideboards. Jake Rawlins was trying to rim the puck but it caromed off the boards, off Brolly's skate and in to the net.
The teams traded goals five minutes later. Ty Carey won the battle in front for a rebound after Liston stretched out the right pad to stop the first shot. Benning knotted the game again, sniping a shot on the high glove side on the power play.
But late in the period the Bobcats scored goals 36 seconds apart. Brody Pollard wristed a bouncing puck home after a couple St. Albert blocks and then Chris Romanchuk tracked down a rebound and slipped it through Liston on the ice. That prompted Pisani to pull Liston for Miller.
“Liam's been really good but we have to be better in front of him. We have to do a better job tying up sticks in front of the net. Would [he] want a goal or two back? If you asked him he'd probably tell you he would,” Pisani said. “It was a situation where we had a couple blocked shots and the puck eventually found its way to the net. It seemed to land on their sticks.”
Halfway through the third, Bourke found a hole on the short side through Briggs' blocker arm on the power play.
The Raiders kept pouring on the pressure as Bourke hit the crossbar and Brolly the side of the net. Brendan McCalpin dug for a rebound in the scramble but Briggs dove across to make the save.
“We were more composed and we moved pucks away from pressure in the third period,” Pisani said. “They have a gang mentality where they swarm the puck and isolate one side of the ice. We have to move it to the weak side and attack from there.”
Leading up to the clash of the north division’s top teams, the Raiders (21-6-6) posted a 6-5 win over the Southside Athletic Club (14-15-4) in Edmonton and the Bobcats (22-5-6) beat the Oil Kings (16-10-6) in Leduc 5-2 in games played Saturday.
The Raiders are on the road this weekend to play the Lethbridge Hurricanes (17-13-4) and Calgary Northstars (9-19-5) to complete the regular season.
“We have to come out hard and play like we can and don't take anything for granted,” Brolly said. “First place is still out there. We don't control it so we just have to play like we can and hope for the best.”