Cats cen­tre Browne blessed with hands of gold

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

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.”

CIT­I­ZEN FILE PHOTO

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.

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