BY JASON PETERS
There are still some question marks but a strong-looking Cariboo Cougars club is taking shape.
The regional major midget hockey team finished five days of ice sessions on Sunday at Prince George’s Elksentre and the 20-man roster is nearly set. A few players are still attending junior hockey camps, a factor that could still affect the ultimate look of the Cougars. Even if those players don’t return, however, the Cariboo coaching staff already has plenty of talent in uniform, something that was abundantly clear after weekend exhibition games against the Everett Junior Silvertips.
In five games, spread between Friday and Sunday, the Cougars showed themselves as a relentless, puck-pursuing squad with a blend of offensive skill, defensive smarts and ability, and reliable goaltending. The Cats used their speed to create an up-tempo pace in all areas of the ice and left the impression they will be tough to handle this season in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League.
“Every year we build for a contender, every year we want to go to the Telus Cup,” said general manager Trevor Sprague, in reference to the national midget championship tournament, which the Cougars hosted in 2017 after they had already claimed the playoff championship in the BCHMML. “We’ve done it once to go to the Telus Cup – we won the year and kind of had the bye to it. At the end of the day that’s one thing this franchise really hasn’t done yet, is to earn a spot in the Telus Cup and I think, potentially, we have the guys in the room right now to be able to do it.”
The Cougars were playoff champions last season as well but fell short of the national tournament when they lost to the Calgary Buffaloes in the Pacific final.
The 2020 Telus Cup will be held in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.
The current Cougars will have 20 carded players by a Sept. 15 deadline. The final makeup of the roster may create a trickledown effect for the two other midget teams under the Cariboo Hockey banner, the minor midget Cougars and double-A midget Bobcats, who were also on Elksentre ice for five days of practice and play.
As for the Junior Silvertips, they are in the building stages toward their own season south of the border. The Everett program is led by northern boy Turner Stevenson, who grew up in Mackenzie and Prince George and won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2003. Stevenson had 44 players in Prince George and used the time for training camp and player evaluations.
“Having Turner up here, he gets to come back to an area where he grew up, in Mackenzie and he played hockey here as well,” Sprague said. “His family has always been big into hockey and big supporters of it obviously. He’s a pretty famous name, with him winning a Stanley Cup.
“He’s always been very well-respected in hockey rinks. We love having him and love the fact he’s willing to bring his guys up here.”
The major midget Cougars will hold practices and do some team building this coming weekend. Practices will continue through the following week and the Sept. 14-15 weekend.
The Cougars will start the regular season with Sept. 21-22 home games against the Thompson Blazers. Game times are 4:30 p.m. and 10:30 a.m. respectively at Kin 1 in Prince George.
On Sept. 21, the Cougars will raise their 2019 playoff championship banner.