Bearcats still finding their way
by John Wilmshurst
For the first time in years, the parents of the Jasper Bantam Bearcats have had to fire up their GPS units to find their way to a game.
While the way to the rinks in Whitecourt, Slave Lake and Fox Creek has become very familiar over the years, the Edmonton area barns are new territory and wayfinding is needed. The parents are using whatever it takes not to get lost, even hauling out dog-eared, paper maps. As sharp as the drivers were at finding the rinks on time, our kids were struggling to navigate in a two game E-Town road trip last weekend.
On Saturday, Jasper played the SEERA Storm for the first time and right away, the Bearcats’ wheels came off. Right off the opening faceoff, the Storm pressured, crashed the net and poked a loose biscuit into the net to take a very early lead. It turned out that this goal, scored 69 seconds into the game would be the winner as the Storm would never relinquish the lead. SEERA would only give up one goal to Jasper, as Baden Koss drove coast-to-coast and found pay dirt with six minutes to play in the third.
But for most of the game, our kids looked lost in the offensive zone, getting pinned to the outside boards and not finding the front of the net. Even the puck got lost on a strangest icing I’ve ever seen. The biscuit rode the dasher the length of the rink only dropping to the ice at the goal line for a whistle. But props to Kelan Polard for doing everything he could between the pipes, Camas D’Antonio hustling at both ends of the ice and Lucas Oeggerli for his relentless forechecking. Five to one was the final score in favour of the Storm as Jasper was clearly in need of some roadside assistance on this one.
Looking to get back on the right track on Sunday, the Bearcats commuted to St. Albert to face the Rangers. The game started well enough as the Bearcats enjoyed more skating room than the day before. But in the early going, forward Owen Kearnan went hard into the boards and wouldn’t return to the ice with a banged-up knee. This was not only a bad omen but forced some new line combinations, and once again, our forwards looked out of place in their opponent’s zone.
There was no scoring in the first period, and although the Bearcats had some chances, they had no puck-luck. Jasper desperately needed to come out strong in the second, but it was the Rangers who got on the board first, five minutes into the period. Defenseman Aidan Deagle evened up the score four minutes later with a blast from the point that sailed top shelf. But on the very next shift, the Rangers regained the lead, and Jasper was back in familiar territory down a goal. Despite a late second period push, Jasper couldn’t equalize, leaving a comeback for the third period.
Penalty trouble would stifle any chance for an early comeback. Polard was doing his part, but St. Albert capitalized on a man advantage in the early going to take a two-goal lead. Another point blast from Deagle that Sebastian Golla redirected into the net drew Jasper back to within one and the momentum seemed to be shifting.
Birthday boy, Jacob Bartziokas led some promising rushes and Liam Crozier turned on the jets along the boards, but there was no finish. The Bearcats couldn’t score. Jasper’s unfruitful offensive pressure led to some odd-man rushes the other way and the Rangers went up by two again, and then three, with about 5 minutes to play.
Jasper’s best sequence of the weekend came too little, too late. But Koss put Jasper back to within 2 goals, burying a one-timer on a no-look pass from Golla who took a behind the net, heads up feed from Oeggerli. At the final buzzer it was 5-3 for St. Albert. Back to respectable, but a loss nonetheless.
This weekend, the Bearcats will be easy to find as they host many of their city-league rivals in their home tournament. Games start at the Jasper Arena on Friday night and run through to Sunday for a weekend filled with great, competitive, hockey. Check the arena schedule for game times, and I’ll see you in the stands.