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TEAM is spelled B.E.A.R.C.A.T

by John Wilmshurst

When the Jasper Bantam Bearcats play as a team, they are unbeatable.

A bold statement. But having watched this group play hockey for the last eight years I have learned a thing or two. Last weekend in an exciting, two-game home stand against the Beaumont Braves, Jasper showed that a team is more than a dozen kids wearing the same jersey. It means playing against six players on the ice is tougher than just one.

Beaumont and Jasper are two evenly matched teams. The opening frame in Saturday’s game saw no goals but Jasper’s netminder turn away 16 shots as the Braves dominated the play. Jasper just couldn’t get anything started. Sebastian Golla started the scoring a minute into the second on a shorthanded breakaway, but a minute later Beaumont would equalize and then take control of the game.

They took their first lead about halfway through the second on a short-handed goal and never looked back. Baden Koss would score once more for the Bearcats and Josh Howes would play his heart out on the blue line, but neither would be enough for victory as Jasper fell 5–2 in game one to the Braves in a rag-tag affair for our kids.

On Sunday, the Jasper Bearcats TEAM showed up to the Jasper arena and it was an entirely different game. With stalwart defender Aidan Deagle unavailable for the weekend, Coaches Jim Koss and John Polard shifted forward Dylan Dekker back to the blueline, reuniting Koss and Golla with Owen Kearnan at forward. Not only was Dekker a force, teamed up with Dana Angebrandt (whose name means ‘don’t mess with me’ in German) at defense, but the KOG line was dominant from the opening whistle.

Jasper got on the board half way through the first, when lanky Camas D’Antonio muscled in the puck from close range. Then Golla scored taking the feed from Kearnan and wristing it low stick. At the other end of the ice, netminder Kelan Polard was not as busy as on Saturday, but still outstanding. This kid makes tough saves look eerily routine. Jasper was giving the Braves such as different look in this game that their coach called a timeout 12 minutes into the game to settle his team down. The difference? The Bearcats were playing like a team, passing the puck around, holding the zone, using the defense in the offensive zone, feeding the puck to the slot. Even with D’Antonio in the box, two-thirds of his way through a Gordie Howe hat trick and with five minutes to play in the first period, the Braves could do nothing and Jasper would waltz into the first intermission with a 2–0 lead.

The second frame was more of the same as D’Antonio’s line with Liam Crozier and Lucas Oeggerli pinned Beaumont in their zone for extended periods. It looked like Jasper was on an extended power play as they cycled the puck expertly in the offensive zone. But Jasper’s only goal of the period wouldn’t come until the 17-minute mark when defender Jacob Bartziokas picked up the pill in his own zone, powered the length of the ice and, channelling his inner Bobby Orr, buried top shelf. Jasper was up by three. Beaumont would get that one back a minute later for their first goal of the game to send the game into the third period with the home team sporting a 3–1 lead.

The final frame belonged to Dekker. With a huge shot, strong backwards skills and a big body, it was as if this talented forward was really a born defender. He was all over the place and changed the whole tempo of the game. Although Beaumont was able to scratch back to within one about nine minutes into the third period, Koss picked up a shorthanded feed from Dekker, thundered down the ice and buried 5-hole to retake a two goal lead, 4-2 Bearcats.

A bad break for Jasper, tipping a puck into their own net, gave Beaumont hope a few minutes later and then the Braves equalized, netting one right off the faceoff with six minutes to play. But Golla put Jasper back on top, converting a Kearnan pass into a wrap-around goal with five minutes left and Beaumont was reeling. They pulled their goalie with 1:25 on the clock and would have capitalized were it not for Dekker sprawling in front of a sure goal, preventing a tie with seconds left on the clock. The play of the game capping off an impressive performance. Add an empty netter by Golla and the Bearcats salted a 6-4 victory and a impressive split on the weekend series.

Next weekend, Jasper returns to Edmonton for a two-game road-trip. You can read about it here.

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