Troy Bourke has vowed to change the culture of the Prince George Cougars next season.
"We need to get everyone on board with not being a losing team anymore," said the 18-year-old after a Western Hockey League season-ending 7-0 loss Saturday to the Kamloops Blazers at CN Centre. "It's not acceptable for the people in P.G. to watch a losing team every year. Next year is going to be different. We're going to make sure of it."
Bourke, an alternate captain for the Cougars and a frontrunner to wear the C next season, was named the team's MVP after completing his third season in Prince George, finishing second in team scoring with 15 goals and 50 points.
"The leadership role is going to be a little more strict [next] year to make sure guys are on their game and working hard," said Bourke. "If you're not willing to work hard you won't be here."
During his tenure with the Cougars, Bourke has missed the playoffs two consecutive seasons, ending the current season with a 21-43-2-6 record to finish 21st out of 22 teams. Last season, the Cougars also finished second last in the WHL. The Cougars have missed the playoffs four times in the last six years with their only two playoff appearances (2009, 2011) ending after four games when they were swept by Vancouver and Kelowna, respectively.
Bourke, a 2012 NHL draft pick (third round) of the Colorado Avalanche, said everyone needs to be better, including himself as his stats were down this season from last season's personal best of 56 points and the 19 goals he scored as a 16-year-old rookie.
"I can still be a lot better defensively and shoot the puck a lot more - you guys probably know that already," said Bourke.
A change began to emerge in the dressing room when Mark Holick replaced Dean Clark as Cougars head coach in January, said the Cougars' forward.
"A lot of guys personal development has gotten quite a bit better," said Bourke. "He's a good coach. He's a hard [expletive], I shouldn't swear, he does his job well and teaches systems well. If we were a little more skilled I think it would pay off a little more."
Holick posted a 7-16-0-2 record since taking over behind the bench Jan. 26.
"We can't excuse any loss on him - it's all on us," said Bourke. "He's done nothing but good things for us. Next year we'll repay him with a couple wins."
In addition to some skill deficiencies on the team, the Cougars were a young team - ending the season with 12 players under 18 on the roster and two 18-year-old rookies - which, Bourke said somewhat accounted for the losing attitude as some players lost confidence as the losses began to pile up.
Bourke said the negativity cost the Cougars two teammates when Alex Forsberg and Daulton Siwak decided to leave the team after Christmas. Both former Cougars are now playing for junior A teams in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, respectively, that have had recent success at the RBC Cup.
"They were kind of sick of the losing," said Bourke. "It's one of those things that is kind of unfortunate but I wish the best to them.
"Next year no one's going to be quitting here and, if they do it's because we don't want them to be here with their attitude," he added.
Holick said he's counting on Bourke, along with prospective sophomore Zach Pochiro (15 goals, 39 points) and overage forward Colin Jacobs (25 goals, 53 points) to lead the Cougars into the post season next year.
"Those three guys for sure are expected to be an offensive catalyst for our group," said Holick.
As for the rest of the 2013-14 lineup the Cougars will ice, Holick said there's a help wanted sign up.
"There's jobs available," said Holick. "The kids that want to make this team have to have a really good summer and come into camp in real good condition. They know what's expected and what we need to accomplish as far as an effort is concerned. Mediocrity is not going to be accepted."