View Full Version : Cougar meetings and player meetings

01-20-2006, 03:21 PM
Cougars team meetings

Citizen Sports Editor
You've heard the phrase 'Death by meeting'?
Well, the Prince George Cougars have experienced rebirth in part because of
a series of well-timed and brutally-honest gab sessions.
Mike Vandekamp, the coach of a team that plays host to the Calgary Hitmen
tonight and Saturday at CN Centre, was asked Thursday if it was a
coincidence the Cougars' record is 13-6-0-0 since a potentially-galvanizing
moment - when 19-year-old forward Blair Stengler abruptly left the club,
causing some soul-searching in the dressing room.
While that might have led some players to evaluate their reasons for being
here, Vandekamp said a series of meetings have been the real catalyst in
getting the players on the same page.
After all, this is a team on a four-game winning streak, with wins in 11 of
their last 14 games, and sitting on a seven-point cushion over the Kamloops
Blazers in the hunt for the final B.C. Division playoff spot. The Cougars
are four points out of third, a place occupied by the Kelowna Rockets.
"When Blair left, it was interesting in the way the reaction came from
that," said Vandekamp.
"It was almost as if they said, 'If he didn't want to be here, fine, forget
about him.' That's exactly what happened in there. It sort of felt like if
anyone else wanted to go, that was the time, and no one else did.
"But more than that, there was a meeting held in Kelowna after we lost 6-2
(Dec. 3). There were some interesting conversations during that stretch. I
met with the leaders of our team, they in turn went from that and had a
(players-only) meeting with their teammates, and I think that was probably
the day when this team sort of pulled things together. In my mind, that was
a real turning point date for us."
It was also 10 days ago, the passing of the WHL trade deadline, that
Vandekamp sat the group down and gave the news that no deals had been made.
"We rolled into the rink in Cranbrook and we had a good discussion that day
about our team, and sticking together," said Vandekamp.
"We've played well since that day. We communicate a lot - not as much with
Xs and Os or with video, we do that some, but we do a lot of talking to our
group. We let them talk back. We're pretty open, and the biggest thing we've
stressed has been a real honest approach, not hiding anything like feelings
or thoughts. We've also worked so guys won't have their feelings hurt by
honesty - honesty is not negativity, and as long as you can get over the
hump and be man enough to answer constructive criticism and build from it.
"We're not totally there, 46 games into the regular season, but by Game 72
we might have some men built out of what we've gone through."
But it hasn't just been full-team meetings that have done the trick.
Vandekamp had a one-on-one meeting with centre Nick Drazenovic, who
subsequently went from struggling to sizzling. The St. Louis Blues draft
pick has 10 points in the eight games since the turn of the calendar,
already totalling more points in the month of January than he had in either
November (four) or December (nine). His season totals of 43 points (19
goals, 24 assists) in 46 games were aided by a strong start, when he had 20
points in 16 September and October games.
Vandekamp said it was a good week of practice following Sunday's impressive
3-2 home-ice victory over the then-top ranked Medicine Hat Tigers that
pushed the Cougars' record to 26-17-0-3. That brought to a close a
treacherous stretch of schedule where Prince George played five games in six
nights, but came out smelling like a rose with four victories, including
three in hostile territory.
"We took a couple days off, sort of, and only half the guys practiced on
Tuesday," said Vandekamp. "It's always fun to get back on the ice and
practice when you have something positive to build on. The spirits are good,
the energy level is good, and we want to keep the same momentum we had last
week rolling for this weekend."
n Vandekamp said the team will have no special gameplan to deal with
ex-Cougars goaltender Justin Pogge (see story on page 8), who leads the WHL
in goals-against average at 1.61.
"We'll prepare the way we always have, and I don't think we'll discuss him
in any way," said the coach.
"We don't normally talk too much about the other team's goaltender. I don't
know the kid personally, but I'm proud of what he did for Canada at the
world juniors. For our guys, maybe there will be some fun motivation there
to go against a former teammate, but I'm sure he'll be motivated too.
"Maybe the one thing there will be is more fan interest to see him, and
that's something I'd like to see."
n The team bus is carrying Cats of a different kind this weekend.
Cougars owner Rick Brodsky has sent the plush iron lung to Bozeman, Montana,
where Brodsky's Wichita Falls Wildcats of the junior A North American Hockey
League are based this weekend for a pair of games.
The bus will take the Wildcats back to the north Texas city, then will
dead-head back to Prince George in time to take the Cougars to Seattle for a
Jan. 29 date against the Thunderbirds.
"I thought it would be kinda cool for the Wildcats to be on the Cougars bus,
with the bunks and everything, a fun perk for them," said Brodsky.