Peter Kosterman's blue-collar approach to playing defence earned him a full-time job in the Western Hockey League.
His goal-scoring touch is not what got the 20-year-old a position with the Prince George Cougars when they picked him up last week in a trade from the Calgary Hitmen.
Kosterman had just five goals in four seasons with the Hitmen but it took him just one game as a Cougar to light the lamp at CN Centre Saturday with what turned out the winning goal in a 6-1 triumph over the visiting Kamloops Blazers.
"It was lucky, I just had a good screen and it went in the net," said Kosterman. "I'm not really known for goal scoring and I was happy to pitch in and it was nice to get one in."
The Cougars plan to utilize Kosterman and his experience a lot this season. The six-foot-four, 200-pound native of Calgary showed his strength and was tough to beat most of the game but there were a couple times he got caught out of position. Saturday's game was only his second of the preseason.
"He's a big body, he's a strong kid down low, he's got a good stick and his habits were good," said Cougars head coach Mark Holick. "We've got to get him in condition. He's had a couple days off and I think it showed in spurts. He's a five-year guy and he's a real good leader, he was great in our room, great in our practice and he's going to fit in well."
Alex Forsberg was the offensive catalyst with two goals and two assists and third-year Cougar Jordan Tkatch was the unsung hero, winning faceoffs, killing penalties and providing blanket defensive coverage. His efforts were rewarded with a pair of assists.
Chase Witala, Martin Bobos and Raymond Grewal also scored for the Cougars, who finished the preseason a perfect 5-0. Matt Needham was the lone Blazer marksman.
The Cougars lost their top-line centre David Soltes late in the second period when he got fouled by Needham while trying to get his stick on a Forsberg pass through the crease. Needham knocked the 18-year-old Slovakian off-balance and Soltes's leg took the brunt of the fall. He had to be helped off the ice and was done for the night but the word is he suffered a thigh muscle bruise and not a knee or ankle injury as was first suspected.
Five seconds into the ensuing power play, Cats forward Jari Erricson got high-sticked by Ryan Rehill, leaving the Blazers without two of their top penalty killers. But the Cougars' power play looked disjointed searching for the perfect setup, and it wasn't until Sam Grist got sent off for roughing a minute into Rehill's penalty that it finally clicked. Witala took a pass off the boards and used Jansen Harkins as the decoy on a 2-on-1 as he let go a low wrister that fooled Pouliot. That gave the Cougars a 3-1 lead after two.
Bobos, the Cougars' other Slovakian, all of six-foot-six, 237 pounds, picked up his first preseason goal early in the third period on a Cats' power play. He showed his nasty side in the first period when he pasted Aaron Macklin against the boards illegally as payback to the Blazers' enforcer after Macklin flattened Bobos's vertically-challenged defence partner, Joseph Carvalho.
"Our young guys got better, they were a little like deer in headlights in the first when some big strong kids on Kamloops were running them over a little bit and our guys didn't really have an answer for it," said Holick. "We kind of regrouped after one and everything went fine after that."
The teams each counted one in the first period. Forsberg stripped the puck off Blazer defenceman Josh Connolly right in front of the net and fired quickly past an unsuspecting Pouliot and Needham connected a couple minutes later on a power-play rebound.
The Cougars have had very limited success against their closest geographic WHL rivals with just one win in two seasons over over Kamloops, a team they will play 10 times this season.
"We don't like those guys very much and they don't like us and [the win] was good to see," said Forsberg. "We're working a lot harder [than last season] and our systems seem to be working."
Brett Zarowny was solid in making 30 saves Saturday but didn't face a lot of quality chances. His best save snagged Tristan Seiben's one-timer in the third period to preserve what was then a three-goal lead. Bolton Pouliot, acquired by Kamloops earlier in the week in a trade from Red Deer, was under siege a lot more often, facing 40 shots in his first game of the preseason.
"It was a physical game but our discipline wasn't where it needs to be," said Blazers head coach Dave Hunchak, whose penalty killers got scored on twice in eight Cougar chances, "We lost momentum after those three back-to-back penalties in the second period and they scored that late goal to make it 3-1. Their power play was the difference in the game."
The Cougars open the regular season Friday in Portland. While it's an achievement to go 5-0 in the preseason it's way too early to start thinking the Cougars are world-beaters. The Cats started finished the 2012 preseason at 4-1 and look where they got them.
"Obviously it doesn't mean anything in the standings but it means a lot to our kids, and they've developed some good habits" said Holick. "We've got a long way to go and we were a little bit sloppy in some areas tonight but full marks to these guys, they stuck their noses into it and played hard and I think they got better as the night went along."