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Thread: Mooseheads mighty, Cats still scratching at bottom of barrel

  1. #1

    Post Mooseheads mighty, Cats still scratching at bottom of barrel

    by Jason Peters

    Not long ago, the Halifax Mooseheads and Prince George Cougars were on level footing in the junior hockey universe.

    Today, one team -- Halifax -- is a Memorial Cup champion and the other -- Prince George -- is as far away from a major title as ever.

    If winning were easy, everybody would do it. But the soaring success of the Mooseheads serves to highlight the ongoing futility of the Cougars and gives local hockey fans the right to be more than a little angry. Compare the Mooseheads to the Cats, and the question -- screamed into the emptiness of a CN Centre game night -- becomes, "Why not us?"

    The Mooseheads claimed their first-ever Memorial Cup last Sunday in Saskatoon when they beat the Portland Winterhawks 6-4 in the Canadian Hockey League championship game. Halifax entered the four-team tournament as the top-ranked club in the CHL and, with the win, capped off a year that saw it skate to a combined mark of 77-8-3-1.

    The Cougars? With a regular-season record of 21-43-2-6, they missed the Western Hockey League playoffs for the third time in four years and failed to earn a banner for the 19th consecutive year of their Prince George existence.

    Let's jump back in time so we can see where the Mooseheads and Cougars were in terms of their development a few years ago.

    At the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, the teams were in virtually identical positions. In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Halifax had skated to a 13-48-3-4 record in a 68-game schedule and the Cougars had gone 12-56-1-3 in 72 WHL contests. Together, the Mooseheads and Cats were by far the worst clubs in the entire CHL.

    At that point, Mooseheads management -- led by GM Cam Russell -- was one year into a plan to completely rebuild the team. In the 2010 CHL import draft, Halifax picked third overall and nabbed Martin Frk, a 16-year-old forward from the Czech Republic. The Cougars, meanwhile, had the first pick and used it on 18-year-old Slovakian defenceman Martin Marincin. The guy chosen in between, at No. 2? Some Russian kid named Nail Yakupov, who went to the Sarnia Sting.

    That's right, Yakupov -- now a rising NHL star with the Edmonton Oilers -- was available when the Cougars were making their selection.

    Anyhow, between the 2010 off-season and last summer, the Mooseheads stocked themselves with fresh talent through the import and QMJHL drafts. They also loaded up via some shrewd and -- when the situation was right -- aggressive trading. Going into a blow-by-blow account of how they were built into the best team in major-junior hockey isn't necessary. But if there was one particular stretch of time that shaped the now-powerhouse Halifax squad, it was the spring and summer of 2011.

    In that year's QMJHL draft, the Mooseheads swung a deal with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to move from No. 4 to No. 2 in the order and used their selection on forward Jonathan Drouin. In the same draft, Halifax grabbed goaltender Zachary Fucale 11th overall. Several weeks later, a persistent Russell managed to pull the first-overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon, away from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in exchange for two warm bodies and three first-round picks in future drafts.

    For those keeping score, Frk, Drouin and MacKinnon were elite point-producers during the 2012-13 regular season and occupied the top three spots in QMJHL playoff scoring. At the Memorial Cup, MacKinnon led all players with seven goals and 13 points in four games and was chosen as the tournament's MVP. In new International Scouting Service rankings released on Tuesday, MacKinnon was pegged as the top skater for June's NHL draft and Drouin was listed at No. 3, behind Portland defenceman Seth Jones.

    And Fucale? Remember him? During the 2012-13 regular season and playoffs, all he did was win a combined 64 games. For the NHL draft, he's the top prospect at his position.

    So the Mooseheads -- at the end of a five-year plan -- are now mighty and the Cougars are still limping along, just trying to get into the WHL playoffs.

    As for why we don't have anything close to a championship team here in Prince George, look no further than Rick Brodsky, the mostly-absentee owner of the Cougars. Brodsky is the man in the ultimate position of control and, over the years, has remained idle as the team's management has produced significantly more failures than successes in building the on-ice product. In junior hockey, there's supposed to be a five-year cycle from weak to strong and back again. Here, the cycle hasn't applied. The Cougars, for the most part, have stayed in the bad to mediocre range.

    In a recent interview with Citizen sports reporter Sheri Lamb, Brodsky admitted to "neglecting the team a little bit in the last few years" and said he planned to change that. Time will tell.

    Going back to the Mooseheads for a moment, one could argue they were fortunate to have players the quality of Drouin and MacKinnon available to them in the same QMJHL draft year. And sure, guys like that are somewhat rare commodities. But not only did Russell get them, he assembled one heck of a supporting cast around them.

    Out here in the WHL, teams have the same opportunity to go from feeble to formidable by taking advantage of high draft selections and by swinging trades to shore up areas of weakness. So in theory, the Cougars should be able to engineer a rise in prominence in a similar manner as the Mooseheads.

    It can be done.

    For proof, look no further than the other Memorial Cup finalist, the WHL's Winterhawks.

    In the not-so-distant past, the Hawks were also a bottom-feeder. For three consecutive seasons -- 2006-07 to 2008-09 -- they finished last in the WHL's Western Conference, hitting a low in 07-08 when they went 11-58-2-1. This season, Portland skated to a 57-12-1-2 record, almost a mirror image of that dismal campaign five years ago.

    A winner in Prince George?

    Two decades later, we're still waiting.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Prince George, BC


    Really sad. This team could do so much better with the right owner, management and staff. If Brodsky is truly serious about turning things around, the first thing that should be done is replacing the GM.

    I love hockey, watch it as much as I can, play it as much as I can. As a fan of the Cougars, I don't see them being here much longer and the really sad part is that I am not even sure I would care if they left. A poor product year after year after year has left a sour taste in my, and I am sure many others, mouth.

  3. #3


    Brodsky is running with his business plan and it is working. Unfortunately for the players, the city, the rest of the WHL and it's fans, it has nothing to do with creating even a respectable team let alone a winning team. What he gets away with as far as putting product on the ice year after year makes the WHL look weak in governance. I have stopped in the middle of my day on more than one occasion to contemplate just how relieved I am to not be in PG only because of the Cougars.

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