On Friday, Sept. 23, 1994, the Prince George Cougars made their Western Hockey League debut in a jam-packed Prince George Coliseum.
That night, the Cougars kept 20-year-old Tacoma Rockets captain Dallas Thompson off the scoresheet and he was held without a point in the rematch the the following night. But Thompson did not leave town empty-handed. By that time he'd already earned plenty of points with his future wife, Brandi Brodsky.
After the Friday game, Thompson was in a downtown restaurant with his Rockets teammates celebrating a 6-3 win over the Cougars in front of 2,184 witnesses. He'd been clipped on the chin with a high stick during the game and needed someone to get him to a doctor for repairs. Brandi's father Rick knew Rockets coach Marcel Comeau and asked Brandi to drive Thompson to the hospital. The rest is history. Four years later, they were married.
"I picked him up at the Keg and he had the tiniest cut you ever saw -- one stitch," laughed Brandi.
"I walked in on the entire Rockets team having dinner and he got up and as we were leaving the room he says, 'So coach, no curfew tonight, eh.'"
Brandi was a UVic student at the time and had flown in from Victoria for opening weekend.
"I sat in the stands by myself next to people I didn't know and I was kind of shy and I didn't say my dad owned the team," said Brandi. "I couldn't believe the energy and the cheering, it was an absolute blast. I had been going to games my entire life but this was so electric, everybody was talking about the team. The town accepted us with such open arms, people were just so welcoming and happy to have the team in town."
Rockets forward Alexandre Alexeev opened the scoring that first night, 3:12 into the game, beating Cougar goalie Chris Mason, but the Cougars tied it up at the 9:47 mark when Graeme Harder shot the puck past goalie Todd MacDonald. Vaclav Varada, a future Buffalo Sabre, put Tacoma ahead again at 15:35, but Steve Dowhy and Alexandre Vasilevskii scored late in the first period to give the Cats their only lead. Unanswered goals from Brett MacLean, Rob Butler, Kyle McClaren and Alexeev sealed the Tacoma victory. The Rockets outshot the Cougars 38-35 and went on to win the second game 7-3.
Rick Brodsky decided to move the Cougars from Victoria in April 1994, once Prince George city council gave its approval to go ahead with construction of a new building, which became known as the Multiplex. But until that opened on Sept. 30, 1995, the Coliseum was home to the Cougars.
"I remember the speeches in the old building from Ed Chynoweth, the WHL president at the time, and [Mayor] John Backhouse, who certainly was instrumental in us coming here in the first place," said Rick Brodsky. "There was a lot of work we had to do and that whole summer was a bit of blur trying to find temporary offices and getting uniforms, equipment and pucks with our logo. We had to put in a bunch of electrical stuff and washers and dryers because WHL rules require you to do the visiting team's laundry."
At the time, Doug Hobson was the Cougars head coach, Mike Leclerc wore the Cats' captain's jersey, and defenceman Clayton Catellier, who will drop the ceremonial 20th season first puck tonight at CN Centre in the Cats' home-opener against Kamloops, was an assistant captain. Catellier took on the 'C' for the second game against Tacoma when Leclerc was out of the lineup.
"Nobody knew a whole lot about Prince George or where we were going, we just knew we were going north," said Thompson, who played three full seasons on defence and left wing for Tacoma.
"Obviously there was a buzz in town that night and it was certainly a good atmosphere in the building. It was exciting, the first game ever. It wasn't intimidating, it was just new. Nobody had been in that building before. I can't recall the game. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, which is now the Ramada."
Wins were hard to come by that first season for the Cougars, who finished out of the playoffs with a 14-55-3 record. The Rockets went 43-27-2 to finish in second place but were eliminated in the first-round in a round-robin. The Tacoma franchise was moved to Kelowna the following season.