Injuries are the downside of playing hockey and Brett Roulston has certainly seen his share.
He missed an entire season of major midget hockey with the Cariboo Cougars with a slipped disc and stress fractures in his back.
In his rookie season in the WHL with the Prince George Cougars he was sidelined for 15 games due to various aches and pains, including a concussion, and this year has been even worse for the 19-year right winger from Whitehorse.
It started when Roulston broke his foot stopping a shot in a game against Vancouver Nov. 30 which kept him out for the next 13 games over six weeks. Then on Feb. 10 against Portland a collision with a teammate left him with a concussion that put him back in sick bay for eight games.
"It's frustrating, obviously, but I just have to keep pushing forward and can't let it put me down or feel sorry for myself because everybody goes through that," said Roulston
The good news is Roulston will be back in the lineup tonight when the Cougars host the Victoria Royals in the first of a two-game set at CN Centre. He's been taking contact in practice all week and can't wait to get back to doing what he does so well for the Cougars.
Black and red are the Cougars team colours but out of uniform Roulston is often black and blue -- souvenirs he takes away from the game because of the fearless attitude he brings to the rink.
"I just have to get in some heads, bang some bodies and send a message," said Roulston. "In our last few games we''ve been playing some good hockey against some real good teams and I just want to contribute as much as I can on both ends of the ice and play the body."
When the Cougars need a penalty-killer to block shots, when they need someone to stand in front of the crease to screen a goalie or pounce on a rebound, or when they send out a shadow to track down the other team's top-line forwards, Roulston is their man.
"He's a big body, he's physical and he skates well and when he plays a physical game he's very effective, but when he doesn't hit guys he's not real effective," said Cougars head coach Mark Holick, who has held a healthy Roulston out of the lineup on more than one occasion this season for not living up to his obligations. "He's got to get in the way, he has to create energy on the forecheck and finish checks. He's a guy we count on and it might not always be goals and assists but he contributes in other ways. He's a strong horse who's tough to move and we need a guy like him in the lineup."
Roulston has one of the hardest shots on the team but it doesn't show in his season stats, with just one goals and seven assists in 42 games. But don't be surprised if he and linemates Tyler Mrkonjic and Aaron Macklin conjure up some offensive magic this weekend.
With 223 goals in 66 games, the Cougars are the third-highest scoring team in the Western Conference and with seven players closing in on the 20-goal range they've been sharing the wealth. The problem this season has been keeping the puck out of the net, as evidenced in Tuesday's 9-5 loss in Kelowna.
The Cats (26-32-3-5) have six games left and are two points out of a playoff spot. For them to make the postseason for the first time in three seasons they need to pass the Tri-City Americans, who hold down eighth spot and have three games in hand over the Cougars. That makes this weekend's series with the Royals a must-win situation both nights for the Cougars. Victoria won five of the six games so far this season against Prince George. Two of those Cats' losses were by the slimmest of margins.
"They're a good team but we match well with them," said Roulston. "We're a real fast team and when we skate we're one of the better teams so we have to bring that. We're all real positive [about playoffs] and I know we have a group that can do it so I'm real excited about the next six games.
The Royals (43-17-1-3) rank third in the conference and they're going to be tough customers. They're one of the biggest teams in the WHL and they pride themselves on their defence. Through 64 games they've allowed an average 2.51 goals per game, second in the WHL. Coleman Vollrath and Patrik Polivka have split the load in goal evenly and rank as the top goaltending tandem in the league. It helps when you have veteran defenceman like Quesnel native Ryan Gagnon, Keenan Kanzig (six-foot-five, 242 pounds), Brett Cote, Jordan Fransoo, Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown (who hit the 50-point mark since joining the Royals in a deadline deal from Moose Jaw).
"They're a physical group on the back end and if you're going to go to the net, you'll pay a price, and we have to have guys that do that," said Holick. "If we're going to score goals we have to be around the paint. When we skate, we're tough to play against."
Brandon Magee, Austin Carroll and former Lethbridge Hurricane Axel Blomqvist are the Royals top-scoring forwards. Carroll has 32 goals and he'll be challenged to keep pace this weekend with Cougar sniper Todd Fiddler, who has 42 this season.
Cougars centre Alex Forsberg has cleared concussion protocol but it's doubtful he'll play. He hasn't played since since Jan. 3. F David Soltes (knee), F Jari Erricson (concussion), and F Chase Witala (back), won't play. The Royals have no injuries to report.
The Cougars have all three goalies -- Ty Edmonds, Adam Beukeboom and Brett Zarowny -- available. Holick wouldn't tip his hand but you can bet on Edmonds getting the start tonight.
LOOSE PUCKS: Students get into the game tonight for $5.25 and are being asked to wear their school colours or team jerseys. Fans are invited to bring their dogs to the game for Saturday's Raise the Woof night promotion. All dogs will get their own seat, appropriately in Section P.
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