Bearcats hang around in post-season
by John Wilmshurst | special to the Fitzhugh
Last fall the Jasper Bantam Bearcats embarked into the unknown, joining a competitive, non-checking league in Edmonton.
But, in their first weekend of play in October, there were questions about whether this was a wise decision. They played with heart, but got shelled 18-2 in two games, struggling against the depth of these city teams. Give credit though to coaches Jim Koss and John Polard. They’ve worked with these kids for years and know how their season unfolds. Slow starts are a hallmark, but so is rapid improvement.
Some 30 games into the season, the Bearcats sure did improve. They finished the regular season in the middle of the pack and their skills and teamwork were peaked as the regular season wound down.
Last weekend the Bearcats travelled to Edmonton for four games over three days in the first round of the playoffs.
There is no way I can describe the play-by-play of four games here. But I wish I could. Our kids played some fantastic hockey, with dominating play from the defensive pairings of Aidan Deagle, Jacob Bartziokas and Dana Angebrandt, Josh Howes. This was their finest collective performance we’ve seen all season. And while hockey experts rarely agree on keys to success, all agree that a goalie can win the playoffs.
Bearcats netminder Kelan Polard was no exception, with rock-solid play, stifling the league’s top snipers and giving the Jasper forwards the confidence rush forward with numbers. And for their part, the two forward lines were working their tails off, leaving us to ask only if a Bearcat has a tail. If they do, it were gone after these four games of tough, end-to-end hockey.
Game one on Friday night was against the North West Zone Mavericks, and this might have been the most exciting game of the weekend. The Bearcats got off to an early lead but only held on to it through the first period.
The score went back and forth until it was all tied at three halfway through the third on the strength of Owen Kearnan’s beautiful pair of goals for Jasper. With less than five minutes to play, Kearnan poked the puck out to Sebastian Golla in front of the net, Golla kicked the puck to his stick and buried low blocker. The Mavericks put on the heat near the end, pulling the goalie and pressing. But Polard was cool under the pressure and the Bearcats prevailed 4-3.
Saturday morning in Sherwood Park, Jasper squared off against the Knights. Although the Knights finished behind the Bearcats in the standings, they held Jasper scoreless through the first period and held two, one-goal leads in the second. Sherwood Park were not the easy mark that Jasper had hoped they would be.
But Koss tied the game at two late in the second period and then scored again to give Jasper their first lead of the game with 1:35 left on the clock. For the second game in a row, Polard backstopped his team through a nail-biting final minute as the Knights poured it on with their net empty. Jasper skated away from this one with a 3-2 victory and a perfect record half way through the weekend round-robin.
Saturday night in Beaumont, the Bearcats faced off against the South West 530 Oil Kings; a tough opponent who were also undefeated through the playoffs. Rolling three talented forward lines and clogging up the front of their net to protect some shaky goaltending, 530 overwhelmed the Bearcats over three periods. That said, Jasper were never out of it, coming back from a three-goal, third period deficit to pull within one late in the game. But Koss’s four goals in this tilt would not be enough and the Bearcats suffered their first playoff loss, 7-4.
Sunday morning would be decisive. Two victories would not be enough to propel Jasper to the next round so they needed at least a tie to advance. The forward line of Lucas Oeggerli, Camas D’Antonio and Liam Crozier came to play, pressing their much larger opponents, the SWZ 533 Oil Kings, and setting the stage for Jasper’s snipers to work their magic.
Golla book-ended another four-goal Koss performance with two top cheeze bombs, and Polard was perfect stopping a break-away and turning away every 533 shot. Jasper strolled to a 6-0 victory, securing a top four finish and a spot in the final playoff round.
The Bearcats will travel one last time to the Big E this weekend to play one, and possibly two games in a knockout showdown. They’ve come a long way since October and can already claim unexpected success, but the season is not over yet. You can read about it here.