The names and faces change every season.
But, year in and year out, one thing remains the same. The Cariboo Cougars win hockey games.
They're doing it again this fall. Currently, the 15- to 17-year-old Cougars are a spotless 6-0 in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League. That mark, of course, has them in first place in the 11-team league.
The MML is now into its ninth year of existence and, during that time, the Cats have compiled a regular-season record of 180-94-36. That means they have picked up points in seven out of every 10 games and have a winning percentage of .580.
As part of their legacy of success, the Cougars skated to a regular-season championship in 2006-07 and a playoff title in 2007-08. Overall, they have advanced to the playoff final five times.
Unquestionably, the Cariboo organization is one of the best in Canadian midget hockey and that's neither an accident nor a fluke. There are reasons for the program's dominance and they can be traced back to the beginning, 2004-05, when the team was known as the Cariboo Canucks.
Quality coaching has been a constant. Recruiting, meanwhile, started as a priority and has been given ever-increasing attention as the years have gone by. And then there's the fact that every effort has been made to run the organization like a top-flight junior franchise and not a minor hockey one.
Admittedly, the Cariboo organization got off to a rocky start in the MML's inaugural season. Off-ice issues resulted in the Canucks having three different head coaches that year, starting with D'Arcy Rahier, switching to Mark Miller and ending with Trevor Sprague. But, once Sprague settled in to the job, the Canucks found their footing and ended up one win short of a playoff championship.
Former local junior star David Keough accepted the head-coaching reins the next season and then Grant Williams was at the helm for two seasons, 2006-07 and 2007-08.
Since then, Sprague has been the man calling the shots behind the bench. Williams and Sprague have left the largest imprints on the program, but all of the above coaches were -- and are -- excellent hockey men.
Strong recruiting, meanwhile, is critical to the success of any team and the Cariboo coaches and support staff recognized this right away. They worked to draw top-notch players from throughout the northern region -- not just from the host community of Prince George -- and when the victories started to pile up season after season, attracting those skilled skaters and goalies became easier. After all, everyone likes to be a part of a winner. These days, the Cariboo organization can boast of all the players it has helped send to the BCHL, WHL and even the NHL. And the list of alumni -- guys like Brandon Manning, Brett Connolly and Brett Bulmer to name a few -- has helped feed the recruiting machine.
Lastly, players know that when they suit up for the Cougars, they'll be treated like juniors, not kids. They're also aware of the standard that has been set by their predecessors and know they'll be expected to live up to it.
The current Cougars are meeting the standard, perhaps even exceeding it a bit.
For the 2012-13 Cats, a true test will come this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, they'll be in Langley to battle their biggest rival, the Vancouver Northwest Giants. For the past three years, the Cougars have finished second to the Giants in the regular season and playoffs. This season, the Giants are beasts again, with a 4-0 record thus far.
Before the current campaign even began, Sprague said that regular-season and playoff championships were the goals. If the Cougars can cut the Giants off at the knees, they would show they're on track to reach those objectives.
Drop the puck, and let's find out.