Bobcats Raring Up to Renew Rivalry with Thunderbirds

by Brett Wiseman

The Blue Ridge Bobcats are set to round out the calendar year by renewing their rivalry with the Carolina Thunderbirds. The Continental Division foes last met on November 18th, with Carolina edging out a 4-3 victory. The Thunderbirds have taken regulation wins in the four prior meetings this season, but not without Blue Ridge giving one of the league's top teams everything they can handle.

"It's going to be a war," said head coach Vojtech Zemlicka. "It's the last game before the Christmas break, and both teams want to go into it on a good note. We certainly want to prove some things to everyone in the process. It's not going to be a pretty or highlight-reel game. It's going to be greasy, and we need to have consistent presence in front of their net."

The Bobcats come off a split between Baton Rouge and Columbus last weekend, entering the game at 5th in the division (3-11-2, 15pts). The Thunderbirds swept the state of Michigan last weekend and come into the contest in second in the division (10-3-0, 38pts).

As with any hockey rivalry, physicality will play a large role. Zemlicka has been harping on attacking with the first punch, instead of counterpunching. 

"We have to initiate physical play against a team like that. If we wait for them to come to us, they feed off of that and we turn the puck over. We have to be hard to play against, and that means being hard on pucks and battles."

Carolina has played fairly even against teams at even strength in games this season. The majority of their wins have been decided by power play goals. Zemlicka has been preaching the penalty kill this week.

"It's inevitable, we're going to take penalties. We have to limit them, but they are part of the game. We can play right with them 5-on-5, the difference is going to be our PK since that is where they do the most damage."

Breakout forward Savva Smirnov will look to stay hot. The Russian sniper has 4 points in his last three games. Jakub Volf, the team leader, also has four points in his last three contests. Danny Martin has stepped up his play as well, recording 7 assists in the month of December so far.

Doors to the APEX Center for Friday's game open at 6:00pm. Puck drop is set for 7:30pm. Tickets are available by calling 276-335-2100, in person at the APEX Center Box Office, and online at

Fans can also tune in on BobcatsTV on YouTube, with pregame coverage beginning at 7:15pm.