Caleb Belter entered this season determined to be an impact player for the Prince George Cougars.
So far, he's delivering.
Belter, a 19-year-old forward, is off to his best-ever start as a Western Hockey League player. Through four games, he has two goals and one helper, not to mention a shootout marker Sept. 23 against the Everett Silvertips. That night, he also scored the goal that sent the game to overtime. The contest finally ended 7-6 in favour of the Cats.
At the end of last season, Belter spent time on a line with Troy Bourke and played some of the best hockey of his life. Those positive feelings carried him over into this year.
"I had really good training this summer, worked hard, and came in really confident," said Belter, a six-foot-one, 212-pounder from Edmonton. "I decided to try to be a leader and step up for the team this year."
This is Belter's third full season with the Cougars. In 2010-11, he skated in 39 games and managed two goals. Last season, he improved to seven goals and 17 points in 60 games.
Cougars head coach Dean Clark is happy to see Belter taking on a prominent role. His solid play has coincided with a 3-0-1-0 start for the Cats.
"Coming in as a 19-year-old player, you gain a little bit of confidence," Clark said. "He's got some big goals for us. He wants to be a bigger part of things here and certainly did the work in the off-season to help himself achieve that. We're real happy with where he's at right now. We just really want him to get better and achieve some more great things."
Belter's linemates this season have been centreman Jordan Tkatch and left-winger Jarrett Fontaine. For the most part, they have been an effective unit.
"They tend to systematically be very good and when you play that style of game you're going to get some chances just because you're in the right place at the right time," Clark said. "I think Caleb has fit right in with those guys, although I'm not sure if that's what our lines are going to be this weekend. Certainly I can put Caleb on some other lines and have him have some good success. He's a big guy that has to be physical, he has to skate all the time and he's got to shoot the puck. He's been doing that more this year than he has in the past."
On Friday and Saturday (7 p.m., CN Centre), Belter and the rest of the Cougars will skate in home games against the Kelowna Rockets, division rivals who have gone 1-2-1-0 so far this season. The Cats have a good vibe around them right now and would love to build on their winning ways at the expense of Kelowna.
"Everyone's motivated and wants to turn the ship around," Belter said. "The last couple seasons haven't been that great and a lot of guys have been here and witnessed all the shortcomings. So, everyone is pretty motivated and wants to have a good year and show the city that we are a good team."
Clark, in his fourth season as head coach in Prince George, said this club is the closest-knit he has had.
"Everyone works hard for each other and there's not very much individualism in our room," he said. "It's a very good team atmosphere."