Hockey al­liance formed

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

The Prince Ge­orge Cougars rec­og­nize the value of in­vest­ing in the de­vel­op­ment of mi­nor hockey play­ers from north­ern B.C.

To help iden­tify those play­ers and keep them play­ing close to home, the WHL club has formed an al­liance with the city’s BC Hockey re­gional rep teams and the Prince Ge­orge Mi­nor Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion to cre­ate a farm team sys­tem which will at­tract the best bantam- and mid­get-aged play­ers, male and fe­male, to teams in Prince Ge­orge.

Cougars head coach and gen­eral man­ager Mark Lamb said his team stands to ben­e­fit by main­tain­ing closer ties with those rep teams, which will in turn help cre­ate more op­por­tu­ni­ties for those play­ers to ad­vance through the sys­tem.

“I don’t think the Prince Ge­orge Cougars have done a real good job of get­ting a lot of play­ers from the north,” said Lamb.

“For us to do a re­ally good job (re­cruit­ing play­ers from the re­gion) we need a lot of help. We draft from all over the place but there are still lots of play­ers from the north we haven’t seen and haven’t drafted. With his type of re­la­tion­ship we don’t want to leave any stone un­turned, and that’s what this whole thing is about.”

The WHL Cougars have worked closely the past five sea­sons with the B.C. Hockey Ma­jor Mid­get League Cougars and the midgets are reg­u­larly called up to prac­tice with the WHL team. The move­ment of play­ers and shar­ing of coach­ing/man­ag­ing ex­per­tise cre­ates also learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the mi­nor mid­get team and the BC Hockey North­ern Bob­cats dou­ble-A bantam and mid­get re­gional teams, and for girls play­ing for North­ern Cap­i­tals mid­get fe­male team.

“That’s a no-brain sit­u­a­tion,” said Lamb. “When we’re miss­ing a cou­ple of play­ers, they come in and prac­tice and get more con­fi­dence com­ing back to their team. It’s a two-way street.

“If you get a good rep­u­ta­tion for de­vel­op­ing play­ers, they’re go­ing to want to come. When this pro­gram re­ally gets go­ing, and it goes through the par­ents, if we do a good job they’re go­ing to want their kids to come here and start play­ing bantam.”

With the bantam teams part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Cougars will to get to know those play­ers bet­ter, start­ing at the dou­ble-A bantam level, be­fore they make their re­cruit­ing choices at the WHL draft ta­ble.

“We’re go­ing to get the first look at th­ese kids and get to know their char­ac­ter,” said Lamb. “We’re draft­ing kids any­way, but we re­ally don’t know a lot about them some­times. If they’re liv­ing in your back yard, you should know ev­ery­thing about them, and it’s not just Prince Ge­orge, we need to do a re­ally good job in B.C.”

Dur­ing his seven years as gen­eral man­ager of the Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos, Lamb made an at­tempt to cre­ate a sim­i­lar al­liance with mi­nor hockey teams in the Swift Cur­rent area, draw­ing on the suc­cess the Bran­don Wheat Kings have had since they be­came more closely tied to the mi­nor hockey teams in their area. The Wheat Kings have been one of the most suc­cess­ful WHL teams on the ice, with one cham­pi­onship, two fi­nals berths and two third-round play­off ap­pear­ances in the past 15 sea­sons.

Trevor Sprague, gen­eral man­ager of the Cari­boo Cougars ma­jor mid­get team, said both ju­nior teams in the city, the Cougars and the BCHL Spruce Kings, have a unique op­por­tu­nity to ben­e­fit from watch­ing those north­ern play­ers de­velop with Prince Ge­orge-based rep teams.

“The Cougars and Spruce Kings get to see a kid de­velop from dou­ble-A all the way up, be­cause all those teams are in Prince Ge­orge – nowhere else in the prov­ince has that,” said Sprague, who re­joined the WHL Cougars scout­ing staff this year.

“I’m pretty ex­cited to move ahead with th­ese guys on build­ing this or­ga­ni­za­tion and see­ing how many peo­ple we can move on to col­lege, univer­sity, WHL or pro. We’re all go­ing to have a help­ing hand here in hockey right out of Prince Ge­orge and I’m pretty proud of that.”

Sprague said the struc­ture is al­ready in place to help ban­ta­mand mid­get-aged play­ers from other cities re­lo­cate to the city. All of the rep team play­ers at­tend the hockey academy based at Prince Ge­orge Sec­ondary School, which pro­vides skills de­vel­op­ment, team tac­tics ses­sions and off-ice con­di­tion­ing.

“If you look at our alumni list, the Cari­boo Cougars have moved more guys on to the WHL and ju­nior A and WHL than any other team in our league,” said Sprague.

“That says a lot about the peo­ple in our or­ga­ni­za­tion and the school plays a huge part of that.”

Brent McIsaac, a for­mer BCHL de­fence­man who played for the Spruce Kings and Chilli­wack Chiefs, was among sev­eral rep team coaches on hand for Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment. McIsaac will be head coach of the North­ern Bob­cats bantam team, af­ter four sea­sons coach pee­wee triple-A teams in Prince Ge­orge and Ridge Mead­ows. His son Brady plays as a for­ward for the Cari­boo Cougars mi­nor mid­get team

“The ben­e­fit to this is dif­fer­ent from what we’ve had be­fore be­cause we’ve es­tab­lished a pro­gres­sion from the time you’re 13, lead­ing kids right into ju­nior hockey,” said McIsaac. “It’s giv­ing play­ers the op­por­tu­nity to go through that pro­gres­sion nat­u­rally, be­ing with like-minded ath­letes and play at the level they’re ready for while also af­fil­i­at­ing and get­ting ready for the next level.

“It’s tough for fam­i­lies to send their kids away at a young age but at the end of the day, this is a can’t-miss pro­gram. This is go­ing to pop your son or daugh­ter into a pro­gram at 13 and po­ten­tially play here five years and go through the pro­gres­sion that will lead you to the next level.”

CIT­I­ZEN PHOTO BY JAMES DOYLE

Team Long player Kel­lan Brienen stick­han­dles the puck through Team Allen de­fend­ers on Sun­day morning at Rolling MIx Con­crete Arena as the two teams par­tic­i­pated in the final day of the Cari­boo Cougars sum­mer de­vel­op­ment camp. The Cari­boo Cougars are part of a new al­liance of lo­cal teams to help de­velop play­ers.

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