Cats’ first-rounders con­tinue to im­press

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

Christ­mas might come early this year for Prince Ge­orge Cougars rook­ies Craig Arm­strong and Tyler Bren­nan.

If their wish lists are ful­filled, Bren­nan and Arm­strong will be ditch­ing their Cougar team­mates for about 10 days so they can play for one of the three Cana­dian teams at the World Un­der-17 Hockey Chal­lenge, Nov. 2-9 in Medicine Hat, Alta., and Swift Cur­rent, Sask.

Both at­tended Hockey Canada’s sum­mer camp in Cal­gary and while it’s not set in stone they’ll even make the Cougar ros­ter as 16-year-olds, the coaches are pleased with the progress they’ve shown in train­ing camp. They knew the qual­ity they were re­ceiv­ing when they se­lected them both in the first round of the 2018 WHL ban­tam draft.

“It’s good to be back, I fi­nally get to make the team this year, that should be good,” said Arm­strong. The U-17 camp was good, but it was tough. I got a lit­tle big­ger, a lit­tle stronger over the sum­mer and im­proved my game. I haven’t proved any­thing yet, I still have to make the team, my spot isn’t guar­an­teed. I just have to get used to the pace of the game be­cause there’s a lot of big­ger stronger guys and I have to ad­just.”

Arm­strong, a na­tive of Cross­field, Alta., was the ninth player taken in the 2018 draft.

Last sea­son he col­lected 12 goals and 28 points in 29 reg­u­lar sea­son games and had three points in three play­off games with the Edge School midget prep team.

Built like a fire hy­drant, he’s quick on his feet and he cre­ates of­fence. Arm­strong stands only five-foot-seven but he’s got some meat on his bones, tip­ping the scales at 174 pounds. And he showed in camp, he’s not afraid of the rough stuff.

“He can take a hit and he can give a hit, he’s a tough guy for his size and he’s a very tena­cious player with a lot of heart,” said Cougars head coach and gen­eral man­ager Mark Lamb.

“He has good bal­ance and good pos­ture and he doesn’t get knocked off the puck. He’s smart,” Lamb said.

“He fol­lows hockey, he’s kind of a hockey nerd, which is very im­por­tant, to al­ways know what you’re up against. If you ask him a ques­tion about a player, he knows. It’s his pas­sion.”

Arm­strong scored a goal and had drew an as­sist for Team Black on a line with Ili­jah Colina and Fil­lip Kof­fer in the in­trasquad game on Tues­day.

“Craig’s a com­peti­tor, he’ll do any­thing to help the team and he’s very coach­able, a coach’s dream,” said Cougars scout­ing di­rec­tor Bob Simmonds.

“He’s a nat­u­ral leader. He’s a true war­rior and one thing that stood out for scouts in his draft year was his con­stant level of com­pete, his en­ergy. There was never any back­wards step in his game. We’re go­ing to give Craig a long look in the pre­sea­son and if he’s here on open­ing night I’m not go­ing to be sur­prised.”

The six-foot-three, 187-pound Bren­nan, picked 21st over­all in 2018, is try­ing to make the jump to the WHL after play­ing a year of midget last sea­son for Rink Acad­emy in his home­town of Win­nipeg in the Cana­dian Sport School Hockey League.

As one of three goalies still left in the Cougars’ camp, he’s in a bat­tle with 19-year-old in­cum­bent Isa­iah DiLaura to de­ter­mine who will back up starter Tay­lor Gau­thier. So far, Bren­nan has looked im­pres­sive. In train­ing camp scrim­mages last week­end he gave up fewer goals than any other goal­tender.

“His me­chan­ics are sound and the bot­tom line is he stops the puck,” said Simmonds. “His phys­i­cal size is the pro­to­typ­i­cal model of a goalie, for sure.”

“He had a good train­ing camp and what he’s do­ing is ex­actly what he’s got to do, just keep get­ting no­ticed,” added Lamb. “He’s a first-round pick who comes with a lot of po­ten­tial and he’s still young. The big step for all these guys now is to see how they do in ex­hi­bi­tion.”

Bren­nan, who turns 16 on Sept. 27, played 19 games for the Rink Acad­emy midget prep team last sea­son and posted a 2.69 goals-against av­er­age and .909 save per­cent­age.

He had his first taste of WHL ac­tion in Fe­bru­ary when he played 10 min­utes of a game in Kelowna, giv­ing up one goal on five shots. He came ready for his sec­ond WHL train­ing camp after fac­ing some tal­ented shoot­ers in Au­gust at the na­tional team camp.

“That U-17 camp was gru­el­ing, but it was fun,” Bren­nan said.

“I learned a lot from it and took away a lot. It was good. We were con­stantly on the go, 12- or 14hour days and you’re grind­ing the whole time. It would be an hon­our to play (in the tour­na­ment).

“I think I’m ready (for the WHL), I just have to keep work­ing hard for the rest of the camp. I’ve put a lot of work into this. Isa­iah is a great goalie, too, and it’s go­ing to be hard-fought to the end. Who­ever gets the spot it’s wellde­served.”

The Cougars have 32 play­ers left in camp – 19 for­wards, 10 de­fence­men and three goalies and prac­tices con­tinue at CN Cen­tre.

The pre­sea­son starts next week­end in Lan­g­ley. The Cats face the Kam­loops Blaz­ers in their first ex­hi­bi­tion game next Fri­day.

They’ll also play the Van­cou­ver Giants next Satur­day in Lan­g­ley be­fore they head to Kelowna to play the Rock­ets on Sept. 8.



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