The Drumheller Dragons hit the road to Lloydminster last Thursday for the first game in a home-and-home exhibition series against the RBC Cup finalist Bobcats. With only a week before the regular season starts, the games versus Lloydminster would be the basis for several decisions that the Dragons coaching staff would need to make to whittle their team down to the final roster. With rookie goaltender Dane Dow between the pipes, the Dragons took the first game in Lloydminster 3-1 in front of a sizeable crowd. Despite the big turnover from the past season as the RBC Cup hosts, the Bobcats were still a formidable opponent and a good test for the young Dragons team.
“We put in a lot of hours practicing and we were looking for several things from our players; pushing the pace, defensive zone and neutral zone coverage, and physicality,” said Dragons head coach and GM, Brian Curran. “I thought for the most part we did a good job in all areas that first game. They worked hard, the leadership was great and the boys certainly deserved to win.”
Curran added that although Dow didn’t face a lot of shots, he certainly made a few big saves at the right times. His start in Lloydminster was somewhat of a homecoming, as he played several games as an affiliate for the Bobcats last season.
On Friday, the Dragons and the Bobcats were in Drumheller for their second showdown together, and this time the Dragons fell 3-2 in front of another good crowd. It was the Dragons’ first home exhibition game and their last game before the regular season starts.
The Dragons came out strong and controlled the pace in the first period, allowing only one shot on rookie goaltender Hunter Virostek. Lloydminster goaltender Matteo Esposito was a difference-maker for the Bobcats in the first period, stopping all 12 shots he faced.
In the second period, the Dragons once again came out storming and finally scored a couple goals. However, with 28 shots halfway through the game, it easily could have been more than just 2-0 for the Dragons if it weren’t for Esposito. With five minutes left in the second period, the Bobcats got back into the game after putting one past Virostek. Before the end of the period the Bobcats scored again, and the contest was tied at 2-2 heading into the third.
Lloydminster scored early in the third to make it 3-2 but the Dragons just couldn’t get past Esposito and the Bobcats took the victory.
“This was a strange game to watch as we did everything we could in the first 35 minutes of the game to win, but it shows me that we have some growing to do,” said Curran. “We needed to keep the pedal down but once the Bobcats scored their first goal we sort of let up and started watching the game instead of playing it. This was addressed with the players following the game and I think they understand now how important it is to play hard as a team for the full 60-minutes.”
Following the home-and-home with Lloydminster, the Dragons coaching staff decided on their final roster of 23 players.
The Dragons get their regular season underway on Friday, September 16th in Camrose, and their regular season home opener is scheduled for Friday, September 23rd vs. the Calgary Mustangs. There will be a Tailgate BBQ before the game on the 23rd hosted by the Dragons and Chinook Financial in the BCF parking lot.
Photo by Athena Winchester of Broken Curfew Photography.