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Jasper Bearcats up where they belong

by John Wilmshurst | special to the Fitzhugh

The Jasper Bantam Bearcats’ grand experiment this year of putting their lot with a non-checking league in the city is paying off. We all have to admit to butterflies before the season started. And when our Bearcats took a shellacking in the first weekend of tiering, there was some clenched sphincters.

That first weekend, the Bearcats played the Mavericks from Northwest Zone and the Southwest Zone Oil Kings and it wasn’t pretty. Jasper was outscored by 16 goals and didn’t seem ready. The Bearcats got put in this same group for the regular season though, and last weekend in Edmonton were re-matched against these same Maverick and Oil King teams.

On Saturday Jasper faced off against the Mavericks who had beaten our home-town kids 8-2 less than a month earlier. This time, Bearcats’ captain and goaltender Kelan Polard kept the scoresheet clean in the opening frame, giving his team a chance for redemption. Jasper’s big D, Aidan Deagle, got Jasper on the board first, late in the second period with an absolute cannon from the point that found the back of the net. A few minutes later, and with just seconds’ left on the clock, the Mavericks got on the board, squibbing a puck past Polard. One to one after two.

In the third, the Mavericks took a lead just before the halfway mark, and extended that lead with two minutes to play for a 3-1 lead over Jasper. Baden Koss drew the Bearcats back to within one, converting a pass from Dylan Dekker, but with 33 seconds to play, time expired before Jasper could draw even. A 3-2 final for the Mavericks, but a moral victory for our kids who had sent a message.

On Sunday Jasper faced off once more against the SWZ Oil Kings, who had blanked the Bearcats 10-zip in tiering. This was a humdinger of a game. The Oil Kings got on the board first, late in the first period, eluding Polard on a four-on-four opportunity. They looked like they were taking control of the game in the second, taking a two-goal lead early in the frame and a three-goal lead a few minutes later when they hacked the puck from Polard’s covering trapper. But then with under two minutes to play in the middle period, Koss netted a shorty, and Polard foiled an Oil King wrister to give Jasper life; only two goals back going into the third.

With 20 minutes to play, Jasper’s gritty players stepped up. This is a non-checking league, but there is certainly lots of contact out there as kids use their bodies to gain advantage along the boards and in front of the net. Forward Liam Crozier, for instance, was using his aggressive style and intelligence to win puck battles and giving the Bearcat scorers great looks on net. Four minutes in, Dekker planted his big body in front of the net, deflected a Deagle slapper on net and indefatigable Lucas Oeggerli stuffed in the rebound. The Bearcats were one goal back. Minutes later, Deagle, fresh from the sin bin, thundered to the net and with pure strength of will, put the puck over the line to draw Jasper even. You could see the relief in Coaches John Polard and Jim Koss’ faces knowing that with five minutes to play, our kids had a shot at beating the team that had dismantled us mere weeks ago.

Those looks of relief turned to ecstasy with 1:17 to play when Jacob Bartziokas sent Baden Koss in all alone and he made no mistake, giving Jasper their first and only lead of the game. Unbelievable. With the Oil Kings’ net empty and time winding down on the clock, Jasper let down their guard though and the Edmonton team tied it up with no time for Jasper to mount another comeback. The game ended in a thrilling 4-4 tie; the Bearcats making a 14-goal swing in just a few weeks against a team that is touted to be the best in their division. Any notion that our country kids were going to be over their heads in this elite city league has been set aside.

You will have a chance to catch these kids for yourself this weekend as Jasper host the team from Beaumont in the first home games of the season. Check out the action, Saturday at 7 p.m. and again Sunday at 1:45 p.m. I’ll be in the stands, and I hope to see you there.

 

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