The final puck drop on the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs exhibition season ended on a high note.
The Pontiacs beat the Lloydminster Bobcats 4-2 in the last exhibition game on Sept. 5. Their regular season starts on Friday, Sept. 14 against the Whitecourt Wolverines.
“We showed a lot of great things that will create a lot of excitement and optimism that we have as a group that we thought we were going to have when we embarked on our 12-month plan to get here today,” recalled head coach Rick Swan.
Bonnyville’s Marc Benoit, Lucas Thorne, and Jeremy Gervais found the back of the net during the game. The team racked up a total of 26 minutes worth of penalties, and Swan said some adjustments will have to be made before the regular season.
“There was some well-deserved calls that we have to be better and well-disciplined. Calls were made that won’t be made in a month’s time from now. But 26 minutes of penalties is an extremely great amount, and you certainly don’t want to be doing that every game.”
While Swan was happy with the successful exhibition games the Pontiacs had, he stressed they can’t rely on certain tactics going into the regular season.
“We’ve got to play great defensively to play great when we don’t have the puck. When we do that, we’ll be able to create more offence and good defence… In the preseason, our guys got a little complacent offensively and they’re getting away with it,” he said, noting the team has a chance to be very good in future games.
While the team has been doing well so far, the long drives from Bonnyville to Frog Lake have prevented them from practicing as much as they would like.
“The frustrating part, which is no fault of anyone else, is that we haven’t had as much practice as we should be having, especially at this time of the year. It has everything to do with the condenser from our ice maker not working, and having to reduce some of the travelling back and forth between Frog Lake,” Swan described, adding the three hours of travel a day to Frog Lake isn’t ideal, but they’re grateful they have somewhere to play.
The coaching staff had the difficult decision to cut the final five players over the weekend to complete the Pontiacs’ 2018-19 roster.
Swan noted the penalties in the fifth exhibition game made it difficult to judge the players, and affected the rhythm and momentum of the group.
“We want to make sure that if you play for our organization that we have an obligation to develop that person both on and off the ice. We made those decisions on Saturday, keeping in mind there’s a lot more that goes on than what we see in games and practices,” Swan said.
So far, the players standing out on the team are exceptional people on and off the ice.
“Twenty-year-old veteran Grayson Constable, is not only a great person, but has potential to be a complete great hockey player. He’s really stood out in everybody’s mind because of the type of person he is off the ice. He really emulates the type of culture that we want to be known for, and he’s a great human being and team-mate who tries to make sure everything he does makes life better for those around him.”
He continued, “Easton Hesse, as goaltender, has really shown that he’s not just a legitimate backup, but he’s a capable goaltender in our league as a first year guy.”
The roster is shaping up for the team, and Swan noted there are a lot of “bright spots” in the players they’ve chosen.
The Pontiacs first regular season home game will be against the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Friday, Sept. 21 at the Bonnyville Centennial Centre. The puck drops at 7:00 p.m.