View Full Version : Cougars going East....Citizen Sept 8

09-08-2006, 10:18 AM
Friday, September 8, 2006

Cougars head east to get first game action

by JIM SWANSON, Citizen Sports Editor

With the calm, quiet nature of training camp, and with just 24 players available this weekend due to six veterans being at NHL tryouts, the Prince George Cougars aren’t as focused on evaluation as they are on preparation this weekend.

The Cougars will play three games in three days, beginning today when they meet the Regina Pats in a rare Friday afternoon game, as part of the Saskatoon exhibition tournament.

The dry run games continue Saturday when the Cats face the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday evening, and on Sunday with a Cougars-Prince Albert Raiders contest.

“It’s been smooth sailing for us to this point, and it will be good to see some game action,” Cougars head coach Mike Vandekamp said Thursday as the team bus lumbered down the Yellowhead Highway.

“I’m glad we started camp early because we just had eight days of quality practice time together, and I’ve been happy with the effort everyone put in.

“There’s more work to be done. Obviously, we’ve got too many goalies and too many 20-year-olds, a stable defence and maybe not enough forwards. We have some unknown situations with the pro guys, and we have to get through this weekend to see how some of these young fellows do.”

Higher on the priority list for Vandekamp is to see how the increased crackdown on all things obstruction will affect the game. Expect man-advantage situations to dictate the flow early.

“We’re going to start building some of our team concepts on the ice, have some team meetings, and we have to start to feel out these new rules,” said Vandekamp.

“It’s a chance to adapt and adjust to the way the game’s going to be called.”

The Cougars will play six exhibition games, the only home date coming Wednesday with the Kamloops Blazers arriving at CN Centre. The Cats close out the preseason with road dates in Kamloops and Kelowna, then open the regular season at home Sept. 22-23 against Seattle.

Those six games will go a long way to finalizing the roster — veterans, not just rookies, need to be feeling nervous right now.

“Exhibition always shows something — some guys rise up and show they can play in the league, and others filter off,” said Vandekamp.

“It’s always interesting to see what direction the players end up going. It’s a big weekend for quite a few of these guys, and evaluations need to be made before the regular season begins. There are battles between first-year guys for a spot or two, and we have guys who haven’t played much, if at all, in this league and getting a lot of icetime this weekend will be good for them.

“We have veterans who still have to step up and prove themselves, too. We have guys in the mix who have to give us more than they gave us last year, and those older players have to carry a larger load and accomplish more, whether it be more offence or giving us more leadership. That process starts right away and there’s definitely competition in our veteran corps for spots on this team.”

The Cougars are completely healthy, but missing this weekend due to pro camps are Nick Drazenovic (St. Louis), Eric Hunter, (New York Rangers), Jesse Dudas (Columbus), Evan Fuller (Vancouver), Ty Wishart (San Jose) and Vladimir Mihalik (Tampa Bay). Defenceman Trevor Bauer, a 16-year-old who was released after the intrasquad game to play midget in Red Deer, will rejoin the team for the weekend, and the Cougars are flying 15-year-old forward Ryan Kowalski, the second-round choice in the May bantam draft, from Abbotsford so he can play the Saturday and Sunday games.

“I have to hold out two forwards, one defenceman and one goalie each game, and I already have lineups written in pencil for the three games,” said Vandekamp.

Scott Bowles will get the call in goal today, and Real Cyr will go on Saturday. Rookie Jordan White, who is in position to end up as the backup to whichever of the veterans who is not traded, will start Sunday.

“We knew Jordan was going to be a capable guy at this level and we were hoping that would be the case to allow us to flirt with the idea of making a move (with Bowles or Cyr),” said Vandekamp.

“On defence, we have to settle on the six guys we want to start the season with, and up front we knew we were going to have to do some work there. That’s still the case.”

Vandekamp said he’s decided not to lose anymore sleep worrying about the return of Hunter, who has said he will take a contract with the Rangers if it means he gets to play at the American Hockey League level.

“I’m not even thinking about it that much anymore, because it’s time to move on — it’s out of our hands,” said Vandekamp.

“He had a great camp, I’m really happy with the way he carried himself, and he’s serious about helping the Cougars be successful if this is where he ends up. We’re on the same page, and I wish him well no matter what happens. We’ll deal with it as it comes.”