Hockey alliance formed
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.”
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.