Todd Harkins has a soft spot in his heart for Prince George.
The love affair started 10 years ago when the North Shore Winterclub Nighthawks peewee hockey team he coached capped a magical 76-2-1 season at Kin 1 arena with a convincing win in the final of the triple-A championship.
Then in April 2012, Prince George became the favourite Western Hockey League team in the Harkins family when the Cougars selected Jansen, Todd's son, second overall in the bantam draft.
In June, Todd's connection to the city became his livelihood when the Cougars hired him as their head scout and director of player personnel, after winning back-to-back B.C. Major Midget League championships in 2011 and 2012 as head coach of the Vancouver Northwest Giants.
Harkins, whose 10-year pro career as a centre included stops in the NHL in Calgary and Hartford, returned home to North Vancouver after watching Monday's Black-White intrasquad game. The latest round of cuts this week paired the team down to 33 players and Harkins will see his troops in action again this weekend in St. Albert, where the Cougars play the Red Deer Rebels Saturday morning and the Medicine Hat Tigers Sunday morning.
"It's been a very competitive camp, guys came in shape looking to make this team and the veteran guys came in shape because they want to keep their jobs," said Harkins.
Towering defenceman Josh Anderson and power forward Kody McDonald, both 15-year-olds, are staying with the Cats a little longer before they get sent back to their respective midget teams.
The team still has six 17-year-olds auditioning for steady employment this winter. That group of 1997-born players includes goalie Matt Kustra; defencemen Tate Olson and Shane Colin; and forwards Jansen Harkins, Brad Morrison, and Aaron Boyd. Harkins stands two inches taller than he did last year and at six-foot-one, 170 pounds he's showing signs he might remain this season as a 16-year-old rookie.
"He just loves playing the game, he wants to play in Prince George and wants to help the team win," said Todd Harkins. "He and Brad Morrison and Tate Olson are three players we're keying on right now to help step in as 16-year-olds to play for us."
Olson is a six-foot-two, 174-pound defenceman from Saskatoon who plays with an edge and Harkins said he brings a terrific offensive flair to his game.
One of the most pleasant surprises to the Cats' brass has been the return of 18-year-old forward Alex Forsberg. Forsberg quit the team at the Christmas break last season but has had a change of heart and now appears ready to show the Cougars and NHL scouts his true promise as the No. 1 pick in the 2009 bantam draft.
"We're thrilled to have him back, he's a good kid and a great player and he's seeing that he should have been in that NHL draft last [June]," said Harkins. "I think you'll see him step it up and I'll be shocked if he doesn't get drafted next year."