Trevor Sprague will be keeping his fingers crossed. The coach of the Cariboo Cougars doesn't want to see Zach Smith spend much time on the injured list.
Smith, a 15-year-old defenceman from Prince George, is the player who has surprised Sprague the most during the major midget hockey team's training camp and pre-season. Unfortunately, Smith was hurt Friday in Penticton, where the Cats were facing the Wenatchee Wild in an exhibition game.
In a 5-2 win for the Cariboo club, Smith got caught in no-man's land -- about two-and-a-half feet off the boards -- and took a body check that resulted in a damaged shoulder.
"Before he got injured, he was doing really well," Sprague said. "He was moving the puck up the ice, winning battles, hitting guys. He's got a strong stick, he's strong in front of the net and an all-around good player in our own zone.
"I think he's the best-kept secret in Prince George, from what I've seen," Sprague added. "He's a guy that, come Tuesday, could make the final roster."
Smith is a first-year player at the midget level. Last season, he skated for the Farr Fabricating bantam Tier 1 Cougars.
Sixteen-year-old Braiden Epp has been another standout player for the Cariboo team thus far. Epp scored a goal in Friday's win and, Thursday in Chase, struck for the game-winner against the Thompson Blazers. In that contest, the Cats also prevailed 5-2.
"He's doing really well," Sprague said of Epp. "He's got a good trigger and a good eye for the net but he works both ends of the ice very well. He's been playing well defensively so that's paying off for him offensively."
Epp is also a Prince George product. Last season, he was a member of the provincial-champion Coast Inn of the North midget Tier 1 Cougars.
Sprague's team has two more exhibition games today in Penticton. This morning, the Cats will take on Pursuit of Excellence and, in the afternoon, they'll face off against Okanagan Hockey Academy.
On Sunday, the Cougars will conclude their southern swing when they skate against the Valley West Hawks.
Twenty-seven players are vying for 20 roster spots. Sprague said all the decisions will have been made by Tuesday.
The Cougars will start their B.C. Hockey Major Midget League season Sept. 22 at CN Centre against the South Island Thunderbirds.