Dan Gibb is running out of time to taste WHL playoff success.
In his three seasons manning the Prince George Cougars blueline the 20-year-old has only tasted playoff success once, only to have his hometown team swept away in four games in 2011 by the Kelowna Rockets. After missing out on a playoff spot by a mere two points last season, Gibb said he's more than ready to get the new campaign started in his final year of junior eligibility.
"It gives you a gnawing feeling," said Gibb. "We were like that close. That disappointment in not getting there kind of fuels you over the off season and coming into preseason."
The Cougars ended last season with a 24-46-0-2 record - last in the Western Conference and second last in the WHL. In the past five seasons the Cougars have missed the playoffs every second season, qualifying and being swept in 2009 and 2011, so if the pattern continues a playoff appearance is in the cards.
Gibb has suited up in 197 WHL games, collecting three goals and 20 points while proving his reliability on the Cats' blueline.
Cougars head coach Dean Clark said he's counting on Gibb being the reliable defensive defenceman again this season.
"He's a guy that's going to be that stay-at-home defenceman, work really hard and step up to make some open ice hits and just be a guy who is going to play a lot of minutes, including the penalty kill and he'll probably even get a little bit of power-play time this year," said Clark.
Gibb's goal is to remain healthy, play all 72 games, help bring playoff hockey back to Prince George and serve as a leader to the Cougars where he'll wear one of three A's along with left-winger Troy Bourke and defenceman Dallas Ehrhardt. Brock Hirsche was named captain.
"We've been through a lot of ups and downs," said Gibb about past disappointments. "That first year was a tough year but it was a character builder. We went through some real lows but you learn the sun will shine the next day."
The Cats appear to have plenty of sun as the 2012-13 season gets underway Saturday and Sunday in Everett against the Silvertips, a team who nudged them out of a playoff spot last season. The Silvertips swept a pair of games in Prince George last January that contributed in sending the Cougars to an early spring.
"Every game counts and we kind of took that for granted last year, that maybe a game in October is going to matter come March," said Gibb.
Clark said after so many seasons languishing in the basement of the Western Conference, and the WHL, the Cougars look to be on the cusp of something special.
"We're on the verge of something real great here with a lot of great young players we have coming up behind what we have here right now and a good base of 17 year olds," said Clark. "We're just coming into a stretch here where we're going to be making the playoffs a lot and we're going to go deep in the playoffs. I think this is a team that really believes in themselves and there's a lot of passion in what we're doing."
The Cougars are down to 14 forwards after releasing John Odgers on Wednesday.
Clark said it was tough to let go of a good character player like Odgers but at 19 years old he wasn't able to beat out the many 17-year-olds on the Cougars' roster.
"It's unfortunate that Johnny got hurt last year," said Clark about the wrist injury that ended Odgers season in January. "That didn't help his development at this level and everybody else did develop. The 17-year-old's in our estimation were a little bit ahead of John on the depth chart and to have a 19-year-old that's kind of your 13th or 14th forward wasn't very good for the team chemistry.
"I wish things would've worked out better for him but, our team is getting better and we've got some young guys that are good players."