After returning from their first trip to the annual Mac's Midget AAA Hockey tournament in Calgary, where the B.C. Female Major Midget League Cougars were winless at 0-4, it was back to the practice ice. Coach Stewart Malgunas had the girls working on some of the weaknesses that were exposed against the high-calibre of talent they faced.
"I think it was a little bit of reality setting it, in realizing they've still got a lot of work to do and a little bit of frustration, not from myself really, I thought it was going to be a huge learning curve, which it was," said Malgunas. "I think some parents and kids thought we were going to do better than we did."
The Cougars finished with three goals for, 20 goals against and a female division tournament high 121 penalty minutes. Prince George opened the tournament with a 3-0 loss to the Highwood Raiders of the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League and then lost 7-2 to another Alberta team, the St. Albert Slash. After falling 4-1 to their B.C. rivals, the Fraser Valley Phantoms, the Cougars wrapped up the event with a 6-0 loss to the Saskatoon Stars.
The Slash were the 2009 Mac's winners while the Stars won the tournament in 2010 and finished second at the 2012 event losing to the Edmonton Thunder in the gold-medal game.
"It was very tough for our girls and we learned a heck of a lot, hopefully we learned what it's going to take to get to the next level," said Malgunas, adding it was interesting to match up against the Alberta teams. "They were a lot bigger than us and a lot stronger and they had really hard shots but our girls could skate with them. If you can skate with a team in hockey you just have to tweak little things to be able to compete with them."
Malgunas said it was good to see Cougars goalie Kali Walls return to the net after spending most of the first half of the season on the sidelines due to injury, adding she turned in some solid goaltending.
Two things Malgunas said he'll be working with the girls on is their conditioning and discipline.
"Conditioning is going to be a huge factor in the new year," said Malgunas. "We were able to compete in the first half of the games and then we were frustrated and taking lots of undisciplined penalties due to our fatigue. When the legs get tired then the brain gets tired and then bad things can happen."
The Cougars are the youngest team in the B.C. league with 13 girls with 1997 birthdays as well as one with a 1998 birthday. But, Malgunas said a handful of girls already left an impression on some NCAA Division 1 scouts who were doing some preliminary recruiting in Calgary.
"There were a few scouts that approached me that were very interested in our girls," said Malgunas.
There were about five girls who caught the attention of scouts from the University of Minnesota at Mankato and the University of Maine. Due to the fact the girls are still several years away from attending college, Malgunas declined to provide names. Malgunas said NCAA schools aren't allowed to approach 15-year-old girls directly and have to wait until the girl is 17 before seriously recruiting her.
"They got on the radar," he said. "[The Minnesota scouts] were there specifically to watch the 97s and they picked out four or five of our girls they were really impressed by. It wasn't a surprise because in my opinion they were our hardest workers in the tournament. The girls know where that's at now and the ones that are dedicated will try to get there."
There are 12 games left in the Cougars regular season, starting this weekend when they travel to Kelowna to play a doubleheader with the Thompson-Okanagan Rockets - the team they trail by two points. The Cougars are last in the five-team B.C. league.