Cougars’ Cur­tis cap­tain ma­te­rial

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff

Josh Cur­tis will some­day be the an­swer to a Prince George Cougars trivia ques­tion.

Who was the last Cougar to play 72 reg­u­larsea­son games in one sea­son?

Cur­tis and his team­mate, de­fence­man Ryan

Schoet­tler, played in all 72 games in 201718, the last year be­fore the West­ern Hockey League short­ened its sched­ule to the cur­rent 68 games.

Play­ing a full slate of games takes dura­bil­ity and a high level of skill. Both play­ers showed those qual­i­ties and made it im­pos­si­ble for

head coach Richard Matvichuk not to put them in the game-day lineup.

For Cur­tis, head­ing into his fi­nal sea­son of ju­nior hockey, be­com­ing an ev­ery­day player in a league a tough as the WHL takes ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fort.

Through­out his ca­reer, dat­ing back to his mi­nor hockey days in Win­nipeg, Cur­tis has main­tained an un­fail­ing ded­i­ca­tion to get bet­ter in prac­tice and stronger in the gym and a fear­less at­ti­tude on the ice that en­ables him to use his speed and quick­ness to find the free­dom to op­er­ate.

Now, just nine days shy of his 20th birthday, he’s looked upon as one of the des­ig­nated lead­ers of a young team on the rise. Af­ter miss­ing the play­offs last year, the Cougars ap­pear to have all the pieces in place to be a con­tender this year and the five-foot-11, 173-pound Cur­tis knows it’s his job to bond that group and show them what it takes to be a Cougar.

“I like the team so far, we have a lot of young tal­ent and speed and we have the grit as well,” said Cur­tis, who will be in the lineup tonight (7 p.m., CN Cen­tre) when the Cougars play the Kam­loops Blaz­ers in the fi­nal pre­sea­son test for both teams.

“You want to set a win­ning at­mos­phere right away and you want to make sure ev­ery­one hates to lose and win­ning those three games so far has been great. Ob­vi­ously we have some ri­vals here now and we want to set the tone for the sea­son. We had a re­build last year and we don’t want to re­build this year.

“We have a lit­tle more ex­pe­ri­ence this year, and that’s big. I think we have a good chance to do well this sea­son. There’s a lot of great guys here.”

Cur­tis has never worn a let­ter on any team be­fore but there will be one on his jersey this year. Whether he gets the ‘C’ or not will be de­cided by the coach­ing staff and GM Mark Lamb be­fore the sea­son be­gins next week.

“Josh has re­ally come into his own and he’s a guy that does the right thing all the time,” said Matvichuk. “If you look back to two years ago to when him and Aaron Boyd were play­ing on our fourth line, it was tough to see him back there, know­ing he did ev­ery­thing we asked them to do but we had so much depth that year and it was a mat­ter of them stick­ing with it.

“Now Josh is a top right winger for us. He’s one of those guys we’re go­ing to rely on heav­ily on the ice and off the ice. The way he speaks to the young guys, the way he holds him­self, he is a true leader and it’s great to see how he’s evolved and we’ve been a part of it.”

Cur­tis was one of the older Cougars at the end of last sea­son. He and de­fence­man Joel Lakusta, who just re­turned from the St. Louis Blues rookie camp, and newly-ac­quired winger Mike MacLean, are the three 1998-born play­ers now with the team.

“You want to lead the guys and show them the way but at the same time I don’t change much of what I do, I’ve al­ways led by ex­am­ple,” Cur­tis said. “I’m not much of a louder guy but if there’s some­thing I can help with I’ll do that. Those three 20s last year and even be­fore that with 20-year-olds – (Ty) Ed­monds, (Colby) McAuley and (Sam) Ruopp – you learn from them and you take what they taught you and show the younger guys what you were taught, just what’s right and wrong.

“I’ve al­ways been a hard worker and some­times the re­sults were there. It’s gone re­ally fast but it’s been very en­joy­able.”

Over the sum­mer, Cur­tis trav­elled to Europe for a 16-day tour and had some of his team­mates come by for a five-day visit to his fam­ily cabin at Lake of the Woods, Ont., two hours away from his home in Win­nipeg.

Cur­tis scored nine times last sea­son and had 27 as­sists for 33 points and car­ried a mi­nus-7 rat­ing on team that un­loaded most of its key vet­er­ans at the trade dead­line. He’s never been the type of guy to light up the score­board but his quick feet, smart stick and great an­tic­i­pa­tion make him dan­ger­ous on penalty kills. This sea­son, play­ing right wing on a line with play­mak­ing cen­tre Ili­jah Colina and speedy left winger Tyson Up­per, don’t be sur­prised if Cur­tis be­comes a 20-goal scorer.

“Some­times chem­istry just comes nat­u­rally and we just got paired up in train­ing camp,” he said.

“We just played well and played hard and fast and that’s kind of turned into some­thing nice. We put up some good numbers in Van­cou­ver (they had a hand in three of the seven Cougar goals) and I like my line.”

LOOSE PUCKS: Cougars winger Jackson Lep­pard, 18, made enough of an im­pres­sion at the Tampa Bay Light­ning rookie camp to be in­cluded on the list of 62 play­ers in­vited to the Bolts’ main camp which started Fri­day in Bran­don, Fla... Cougar prospect Cole Beamin, a 16-year-old de­fence­man for the Ni­pawin Hawks, scored the Hawks’ first goal in their emo­tion-charged 2-1 vic­tory over the Hum­boldt Bron­cos, which opened the sea­son in the Saskatchewan Ju­nior Hockey League Wed­nes­day in Hum­boldt, Sask. It was the first game for the Bron­cos since the April 6 bus crash which killed 16 mem­bers of the team .... The Blaz­ers sport a 3-1-0-0 pre­sea­son record, same as the Cougars. They beat the Cats 5-0, Aug. 31 in Kam­loops. Prince George will be in Vic­to­ria next week­end for a dou­ble­header against the Roy­als to open the sea­son. The Cats also play Wed­nes­day night in Kelowna be­fore they re­turn home to play the Rock­ets at CN Cen­tre, Sept. 28-29... Grad­u­ated Cougar for­wards Aaron Boyd and Bro­gan O’Brien are now play­ing in U Sports for the Car­leton Ravens and room to­gether in Ot­tawa. O’Brien is ma­jor­ing in com­puter science and Boyd is study­ing busi­ness. They’ll be play­ing against Jared Bethune, the other Cougar 20-year-old last sea­son, who is now study­ing at Queens Univer­sity in Toronto.

CP PHOTO

Davon Cole­man of the B.C. Lions dives to take down Mon­treal Alou­ettes quar­ter­back An­to­nio Pip­kin dur­ing the sec­ond half of Fri­day night’s CFL game in Mon­treal.

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