The Cariboo Cougars hope the end of a record-breaking regular season is
just the start of something even bigger and better.
The Cougars, who will host the 2017 TELUS Cup in late April, closed out
their schedule with seven consecutive wins, clinching first place in the
B.C. Major Midget League and setting a franchise record for victories in a
season, with 34. They held off the Vancouver NE Chiefs by just two points
for top spot.
Cariboo also set all-time team marks for most goals scored (214) and fewest
goals allowed (75) in a season.
Returning much of the team that was swept in the BCMML final by the Valley
West Hawks a year ago, the Cougars took control of the league early,
posting a 23-2-1 record before the calendar turned to 2017.
They were 14-2 on Prince George ice, and went 9-3 against the three teams
that finished right behind them in the standings – the Chiefs (2-2),
Okanagan Rockets (3-1) and Greater Vancouver Canadians (4-0).
Cariboo had offensive leaders up front (Daine Dubois co-led the BCMML in
scoring with 67 points) and on the blue-line (Jeremy Gervais paced all
defencemen with 49 points) and weren’t too bad defensively (goaltenders
Zack Wickson and Marcus Allen finished one-two in goals-against average at
1.70 and 2.01, respectively).
“We’re very deep; there’s not one guy or one line that does it all,” Dubois
told the Prince George Citizen at the end of the regular season.
“We all bring different stuff to the table and we just try to execute our
strengths as best we can and I think we do a good job of it when we’re on.”
Balanced would be a good way to describe the Cougars. In total, 11 of 12
forwards and four of six defencemen reached the 20-point plateau, and eight
players recorded double-digits in goals.
Now it’s on to the playoffs.
The postseason started with a first-round showdown with the eighth-place
Kootenay Ice, and it went much like the regular season, with the Cougars
rolling to 5-1 and 3-0 wins to sweep the best-of-three series.
The season series between the two was a mismatch, with Cariboo taking all
four games in convincing fashion; they earned 8-2 and 6-0 wins on the road
to open the season, and posted 8-0 and 10-1 victories at home in
Cariboo is no stranger to playoff success, having reached the league
championship series five times in the eight seasons Sprague has been behind
the bench. But they haven’t been the last team standing since 2008.
This year, though, the pressure is off. They don’t necessarily NEED to win.
Could that be the difference?
“We already know we’re in [the national championship] as hosts so we don’t
have to worry about the TELUS Cup,” Sprague told the Citizen about
his team’s mindset. “We just have to worry about what we need to do in each
series and be able to play our way and be successful at that.
“I think having the majority of our team back [from last season],
understanding that we made the final last year [and lost], it's something
that all these guys – including the guys that are new to the team – all
have that bee in their bonnet, like, 'We've got to complete the mission.'”
Cariboo drops the puck on Canada’s National Midget Championship on April 24
when it takes on the Pacific Region champions to wrap up Day 1 play at the