After three seasons in the WHL Troy Bourke is relishing his new role as leader of the Prince George Cougars' pack.
The confidence he gained in his own abilities in two weeks of practicing with the pros and playing an NHL exhibition game for the Colorado Avalanche was reinforced by his Prince George coaches last weekend when they named Bourke captain of the Cougars.
"It''s all about responsibility," said Bourke. "The last two years I've been an assistant looking up to guys like [Brock] Hirsche and [Dan] Gibb, picking up ideas what they do. I'm kind of the nice guy around the rink and around the guys and I have to be more intense and get on them a bit. We have to win, and whatever that takes, that's what we'll do.
"Obviously with the new coaching staff we have a different feel this year. We have a lot of young guys still, but they're more driven, there's a little more intensity and practices are a lot stronger and more structured."
The Cougars (1-2-0-0) host the Kamloops Blazers tonight in the home-opener of their 20th season in Prince George. The Cougars won just 13 games at CN Centre last year on the way to a 21-43-2-6 finish. There's only one way to go as far as Bourke's concerned. The 19-year-old winger from Onoway, Alta., says his team is ready to shed its reputation as WHL doormats and promises this year's team will bring excitement back to their win-starved supporters at CN Centre.
"I think for sure this year we want to be good in our barn in front of our fans and it's going to be good ," said Bourke. "The players are excited about the home opener. Some of the young guys are a bit nervous and that's to be expected, with probably a lot of the families in town."
After blowout losses in to start the season last weekend in Portland and Everett, the Cougars have been outscored 18-7 through three games but Bourke figures that was a wild exception to the rule the Cougars intend to follow this season.
"We're not going to be perfect every night and those games in Portland and in Everett we were not strong enough and we had to come strong in the third game and we did that," said Bourke. "This weekend we want a couple wins here and it's going to be fun. We're taking it game by game but [playoffs] are definitely within our sights and we're not going to settle for anything less than that. We have to produce, we have to win, and the only way to do that is to give it your all every night. We have to find ways to win and bring back the fans."
Head coach Mark Holick says Bourke stood out as the obvious choice as captain. He ranked second in team scoring last season with 50 points, including 15 goals. That came on the heels of a 56-point season in 2011-12, which was good enough to get Bourke drafted by the Avalanche in the third round in 2012, 72nd overall.
"He's very mature young man and you just watch how he interacts with our players, the guys gravitate towards him," said Holick. "He's not a big rah-rah type but he's mature and knowledgeable and he's now been to a pro camp and he gets the big picture. Guys look up to him and respect him."
The Cougars also issued letters of authority to Zach Pochiro, Alex Forsberg and Klarc Wilson. Pochiro, who joined the Cougars in Portland after being released from the St. Louis Blues training camp, has just one game under his belt wearing the 'A' on his jersey. He was ejected from Friday's game and served a two-game suspension for a charging into Winterhawks defenceman Garrett Harr early in the third period Friday. Pochiro should be ready to play tonight.
The Cougars will be without injured top-line centre David Soltes (lower body) and forward Jari Erricson (lower body).
Holick was keeping his starting goalie for tonight a mystery. Brett Zarowny took the losses in Portland and Everett, while Ty Edmonds was the winning netminder Sunday in Tri-Cities.