They are on a four-game winning streak to start the season. Naturally, the Cariboo Cougars would love to build on their success with a couple more wins this weekend.
To do it, they'll have to find a way to keep Matthew Barzal of the visiting Vancouver Northeast Chiefs quiet.
Barzal, a 15-year-old forward from Coquitlam, is currently the most potent point-producer in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League. Through four games with the Chiefs, he has a league-leading 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) and is proving that the Seattle Thunderbirds made a good decision when they chose him first overall in last spring's Western Hockey League bantam draft.
The Cougars and Chiefs will meet today and Sunday at CN Centre, with opening face-offs scheduled for 1 p.m. and 10:15 a.m. respectively.
While the Cougars won't designate a shadow for Barzal or try to double-team him, head coach Trevor Sprague said his players will need to be aware every time he's on the ice.
"For us as a team, it's just knowing when he's out there," Sprague said. "Our four lines should be able to stack up nicely against him. I think it's just [taking away] time and space. He's pretty creative with the puck and he works hard through checks so there's no point in putting two guys on him. One guy on each line is going to have to be able to do the job -- notice where he's at and be able to pick him up."
The Cougars take a 4-0 record into today's game and are tied at the top of the 11-team MML with the Vancouver Northwest Giants. The Chiefs sit fourth with a 2-1-1 mark.
The 15- to 17-year-old Cats are proving to be a resilient bunch. Last weekend in Langley, they fell behind in a pair of games against the Valley West Hawks but salvaged 5-4 and 4-3 victories. To pull out the wins, they had to solve the brilliant goaltending of 15-year-old Luke Stripp.
"They don't panic when we get down," Sprague said of his players. "Both those games we were down one or two goals and we battled back. We had some adversity with their goaltending being as good as it was. Stripp got 40-plus shots each game and on the second or third shot he was making saves."
Offensively, the Cougars are being led by local forwards Braiden Epp and Liam Blackburn, who are third and fourth in league scoring. Epp has three goals and eight points so far and Blackburn has three goals and seven points. The two 16-year-olds have spent significant time on the same line and have clicked nicely.
"Epp and Blackburn have played all of minor hockey together so they've got some chemistry," Sprague said. "But every one of our lines is contributing so we're pretty happy with that."
n Stephen Penner, a 16-year-old defenceman for the Cougars, has been added to the protected list of the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders.
Penner, an imposing six-foot-five and 190 pounds, has one goal, one assist and six penalty minutes in four games. He attended the training camp of the Vancouver Giants in late August and then returned to his hometown to play major midget hockey with the Cougars.