A new four-letter word was introduced into the Prince George Cougars' vocabulary last weekend.
After a lacklustre performance in a 4-1 loss at CN Centre to the Western Hockey League's worst team, the Vancouver Giants, on Saturday, head coach Mark Holick had the Cougars back on the ice the next day for about 90 minutes of hard skating.
"We're going to learn to work," said Holick. "That's what's going to happen. We're going to work here. We can't afford an off day. They need to be rested and stuff, but at the end of the day, we rested [Saturday]. We'll work Sunday and go from there."
Work the Cougars did Sunday. Holick began and ended practice by having the Cougars skate from one end of the ice to the other until he was satisfied with the effort everyone gave. In between the team worked on offensive possession drills. By the end of Sunday's practice several Cougars' players were gasping for air and it appeared they were skating on jelly legs.
"I'm worried about getting these guys going," said Holick. "It's our objection as a staff to get these guys working in the right direction together."
The only players exempt from Sunday's hard labour were the two injured Cats, goalie Brett Zarowny (concussion, not cleared to skate) and defenceman Joseph Carvalho (MCL, skated Saturday, by himself, for the first time since Dec. 30).
The lack of work ethic the Cougars (17-31-2-6) displayed in Saturday's loss to the Giants (14-42) is worrisome for Holick because had the Cats won the game they would've moved into the eighth, and final, playoff spot in the western conference. But the loss, coupled with the "loser point" the Seattle Thunderbirds (19-32-5-1) obtained in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Calgary Hitmen gives the T-birds a two-point advantage. The Cougars hold a game in hand on Seattle.
Since Holick replaced Dean Clark as Cougars head coach on Jan. 25 the Cats have posted a 3-4-0-2 record. But in the two games the Cougars should've had the most motivation to get up for - Saturday against Vancouver and a 6-1 loss in Seattle - they showed a lack of interest.
"I don't know how much more you want to put on a platter - you've got a chance to win, at home, against a team below you in the standings, after you came back and played pretty well the night before and then, you lay an egg like that," said Holick.
Friday the Cougars rebounded from 3-1 and 4-2 deficits to beat the Giants 6-4. Jari Erricson had the Cats' only goal Saturday - Zach Pochiro and Caleb Belter picked up assists - but the Cougars were out shot 35-24.
The Cougars begin a four-game Alberta road trip Wednesday in Red Deer against the Rebels (29-22-4-2) followed by games Friday against the Medicine Hat Tigers (27-26-2-1), Saturday against the Lethbridge Hurricanes (25-25-2-7) before ending the trip Monday against the Edmonton Oil Kings (41-12-2-3).
Before Monday's game, the Cougars will trek to Onoway, Alta., hometown of Troy Bourke, who was drafted 72nd overall (third round) in the 2012 NHL entry draft by the Colorado Avalanche, where they'll off some hockey tips to the Onoway Eagles novice teams. It's the second time the Cougars have visited Onoway since the 18-year-old Bourke joined the team.
When the Cougars return to Prince George they'll have 12 games remaining in the regular season, starting with a doubleheader Feb. 22-23 against Seth Jones and the Portland Winterhawks.