Cats centre Browne blessed with hands of gold
If you’re an armchair quarterback, Ethan Browne is the kind of athlete you love to hate.
Growing up in Sherwood Park, Alta., it didn’t matter what sport he tried – baseball, football, basketball or hockey – the skill it takes to play those games well just came naturally to him.
Thankfully, for the Prince George Cougars’ sake, hockey was the one that caught Browne’s full attention as a young teenager. Since coming to the Cats two seasons ago in a trade from the Everett Silvertips, Browne has endeared himself to Cougar fans as a dazzling puckhandler and pinpoint passer with a knack for finding his teammates through a crowd.
Last season he centred the top scoring line with Josh Maser and Vladislav Mikhalchuk and it was no coincidence, with Browne as the setup guy, they led the team with 30 and 25 goals respectively.
For Browne, it was just a case of relying on his instincts.
“I guess I didn’t really work on my hands too much or skill as a kid, it just came natural to me,” he said. “I was more that guy who could just watch and I could just do it after that. I played football for a bit, I was a running back when I was 13 or 14, but I would have loved to play baseball or basketball.”
Playing hockey in the WHL he’s turned a few heads, he just needs to find a little more consistency.
“I want to be a top guy on this team and be a bigger leader, just be the guy I am and work harder,” Browne said. “I was a highpoint guy in bantam growing up but getting points in this league is tough.”
Browne played both games of the seasonopening weekend against the Vancouver Giants on a line with wingers Maser and Reid Perepeluk but that line was shut out of the scoring in a pair of losses.
“I played together with Maser a lot last year and we had pretty good chemistry going so why ruin that,” said Browne, who produced nine goals and 31 points in 57 games last season. “They work hard. They’re both big guys and I’m not the biggest guy (six-feet, 180 pounds) so hopefully they can get me the puck and I can give them the puck back.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Browne works hard in the gym after practice and he’s grown up around that atmosphere most of his life with two role models in-house.
“My parents are bodybuilders,” he said. “I don’t want to be as big as them, but they’re in really good shape.”
Browne, 18, joined the Cougars as a 16-year-old on Jan. 1, 2018 when he was traded from the Everett Silvertips for forward Ethan O’Rourke. The Silvertips picked him 14th overall in the 2014 WHL bantam draft. He played just eight games for a firstplace Everett team and he says the trade was just what the doctor ordered, giving more opportunity to play.
“I love it so far, I love the fans and love my billets and I love the guys, I just love it here,” said Browne.
What he doesn’t love is the pain that sometimes comes with being a junior hockey player. Browne missed 11 games last season due to lingering back and hip injuries which kept him off the ice through much of training camp and he wasn’t available until late in the preseason. He missed a day of practice this week and he’s still not 100 per cent healthy.
“For sure, it’s tough being out with an injury, not skating as much but I want to try to skate more and more each day and be back to my full self,” he said. “It goes away and comes on again, I just have to figure out what it is and get it sorted. I’m close.”
Heading into his third WHL season in Prince George, Browne has yet to make the playoffs and he knows his team will have its share of struggles with a young roster. But he thinks Cougar fans will eventually be rewarded for their patience watching the team develop into a contender.
“Obviously we felt we should have came out with at least a point last weekend in the matchups against Vancouver but it’s still early in the year and we’ve got time to figure ourselves out,” he said.
“We’re not that physical but we’re fast and we can hit and when we want we can hit. I think we’re way better than last year, guys came to camp in better shape and we’re way more skilled than last year and we’re faster.”
The Cougars head to Victoria for games Friday and Saturday against the Royals (01) without two of their best players – centre Ilijah Colina and defenceman Cole Moberg.
Colina hurt his shoulder in the preseason and is still three weeks away from returning. Moberg left near the end of the second period of Saturday’s game against Vancouver when he suffered an upper-body injury in a collision with one of the Giants that will keep him on the shelf for the next two or three weeks.
Colina returned to the Cougars after leaving the team in February to deal with a personal issue. The 19-year-old from Delta is expected to be the Cougars’ top-line centre. Moberg, 18, was the only Cougar selected in the June NHL draft (picked in the seventh round by Chicago) and with his ability to move the puck he rates as their top defenceman. In the Giants’ series he was being used as a winger on the Cougars’ power play.
“It’s a huge blow, as was Colina,” said Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “Browne had a tough training camp because he was injured all the time and we’re trying to get him up to speed. That’s our skill on the team, that’s the biggest problem.”
Cole Beamin just returned from an upperbody injury will take Moberg’s spot in the lineup.
The Royals are coming off a 6-0 loss in Everett, their only game so far this season. Compared to the Cougars they’re an older team, with eight 2000-born players on the roster.
Lamb didn’t like the outcomes last weekend – 5-3 and 4-1 losses to the Giants – but saw plenty of encouraging signs from his players.
“We did a lot of good things without the puck, we limited them to not a lot of shots, and we limited their scoring chances,” said Lamb. “That’s the way we have to play. We need our goaltenders to be strong and if they are strong and we play a good team game we’ll have success. We don’t have the offence and it’s not just offence, you’ve got to play away from the puck. Everyone talks that a good defence creates offence and it’s so true. But if you just think you’ll go out and score goals you’re never going to win. It’s a mindset.”
Lamb hinted the Cougars might be willing to part with a few veterans to make the team better in the long run.
“We’re probably going to get younger as the season goes, if we make any deals or stuff like that,” he said.
“We’ve got to do the right things now. The biggest thing is we’ve got to have patience. It’s probably going to be hard for people, because they want to win, but there’s no way to win right now. There’s no quick fix. It’s going to take some time.”
Prince George Cougars forward Ethan Browne looks to make a play with the puck while being checked by Victoria Royals defender Jameson Murray in 2018.