By Alex Kyrias, NAHL
One of the toughest things to do in sports is win a National Championship. It doesn’t matter what sport, race, event or competition, if you end up as the best at your level at what you do throughout the entire country, the label ‘National Champion’ stays with you for a lifetime. Maybe the next most difficult thing to do is find a way to defend that National Championship.
Thus was the task for the Bismarck Bobcats in 2010-11. After winning the Robertson Cup National Championship for the first time in team history in Wenatchee, WA in of May of 2010, the Bobcats had little time to celebrate as an organization. The Bobcats found themselves with a target on their back as every team in the NAHL would now shoot for the prize that Bismarck won. One week later, Layne Sedevie would take the reigns as head coach and enter the first tryouts of the season.
“No doubt we had a target on our back from the get go and I told the guys from the start of the season that as the Robertson Cup Champion, you are going to get every teams best effort each and every game,” said Sedevie. “Knowing and understanding the feeling we had when we won, we wanted to go back and do it again and had our sights set on keeping that trophy for another season.”
The Bobcats comfortably made the playoffs again, but as the fourth and final seed in the Central Division. However, they finished only five points back of division champion Alexandria and everyone knew that Bismarck would be tough to handle because of their playoff experience. It took the maximum five games, but Bismarck would advance to the Central Division finals against Coulee Region. After another grueling five-game series and another win on road ice in the fifth and deciding game, Bismarck found themselves the unenviable position of having to participate in the Robertson Cup play-in series against the North Division Champion Michigan Warriors.
“It was tough to handle because we had to go from winning that fifth game on the road and winning our divisional playoff championship, to driving down to Topeka for the play-in series, still wondering if we were going to play in the Robertson Cup tournament,” said Sedevie. Bismarck would fall to the Warriors in the two-game play-in series, as Michigan would triumph in the second game in double overtime. “The guys played their hearts out and we were disappointed it ended that way, but they will learn from it.”
So as the Bobcats enter 2011-12, optimism is high. The Bobcats return four of their top five scorers, almost their entire defensive corps and veteran goalie Tommy Burke, who saw some playing time last year including the playoffs. “I believe the consensus around the organization is that this could be one of, if not the best and deepest team in Bobcats history,” said Sedevie. The final tryout camp was so good in fact that Bobcats owner Thom Brigl remarked that it was “definitely the best team we’ve ever had coming out of Main Camp.”
As for who Sedevie will lean heavily on to lead Bismarck back to glory, he was quick to point out forward Daniel Zawacki. Zawacki, 20, was second on the team in scoring last season with 46 points in 52 games, but more impressively he had twice as many game-winning goals (6) as anyone else on the team. “Daniel is certainly a guy we will lean heavily on,” said Sedevie. “I think with his experience last season in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament and in the playoffs, he understands how to lead and motivate.”
As for other players who Sedevie expects to lead the Bobcats this season, forwards Francis DeAugustine and Castan Sommer are both players who averaged to close a point per game and are expected to lead the Bismarck offense. On the blueline returns Donald Olivieri, who as a rookie last season, led all NAHL defensemen in goals with 14. Daniel Ray and Rodney Lalonde also return on the blueline to a very veteran laden defensive corps that last year allowed the fewest goals against of anyone in the Central Division.
The last time the Robertson Cup was held in Frisco, Texas in 2004, the Bobcats were in the National Title game. So, it will be no surprise to anyone in the NAHL that when the Robertson Cup returns again to Frisco in 2012 that the Bobcats are right back again in the mix.
Next up in the NAHL’s 28 teams in 28 days series, the Chicago Hitmen.