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Cariboo Hockey ‘further ahead’ in preparing for 2020 outdoor games in Fort St. James

Measures in place to help keep Cariboo Cougars, Northern Capitals warm this weekend

Final preparations are being done by Cariboo Hockey as we speak for the 2020 BC Winter Classic games in Fort St. James.

The recent string of arctic-like weather in the Stuart-Nechako region, alongside Prince George, has been taken into consideration to ensure everyone skating outdoors this weekend, including the Cariboo Cougars and Northern Capitals, are as warm as they can be in below-zero temperatures.

Even though Environment Canada is forecasting a shift away from the extreme cold conditions, Cariboo Cougars General Manager Trevor Sprague says crews have strategically placed hot-spots where it’s most needed.

“We got heaters blowing into the bench if we need them,” explains Sprague in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters. 

“Obviously the dressing rooms have heat and they’re right behind the benches, so we’ve got lots of heat and everything right close to where the players are as needed. But, it is an outdoor game, so it’s going to be cold either way, but I think we’re going to have perfect temperatures for this weekend.”

This will be the second year in a row the Cariboo Cougars will play at Ernie Sam Memorial Arena, but it’s a first for the Northern Capitals, believed to be the inaugural outdoor game for any female midget AAA hockey club in the country.

Sprague feels girls’ hockey can get left behind when it comes to big opportunities such as the BC Winter Classic.

“We’ve got two major midget hockey teams, one male and one female, and we’ll see how it all goes,” he said. 

“So far, no one’s been too high-maintenance on having them both here, so we’ll see how the rest of the week goes when dealing with the lower mainland teams, but having the Capitals a part of this Winter Classic is huge. It’s something that puts a mark on female hockey and even just in Canada.”

Much like last year, in addition to hosting five total games, the two teams will go into the communities of Vanderhoof and Fort St. James, speaking with kids, playing games, sharing life stories and running mini-camps with local minor hockey associations.

Perhaps more importantly, Sprague says the players are helping grow hockey in places where sometimes the game can dwindle into the night.

“I think it’s a positive thing for all three communities and for the minor hockey associations that are affected here. [Everybody] understands that its special thing to be able to do this,” he said, while also crediting those local volunteers who’ve helped prepare for the weekend at hand.

“Fort St. James has been really well-represented here just on people helping out, you know, volunteers coming in. We’ve got two of out alumni dads that have been here with me, Mike Goodwin and Steve Allen, and there’s been numerous people behind the scenes to make sure that this event is successful. It's a positive thing for all communities so I think it’s going to be a good showing; we had a lot of people come out last year and I think we'll have the same this year.”

Now, should the outdoor games get cancelled, Sprague says they’ll be moved to the Fort Forum Arena in Fort St. James, but he’s not worried about that scenario, adding the weather in the District has been ideal for ice-maintenance thus far.

“We had a nice slab of ice on the concrete when we got here last year. We were building two rinks at the same time, so it was a pretty gnarly thing to do I guess. It was pretty crazy to have it ready for the Saturday, but we’re way further ahead right now than where we were last year. [...] The sun’s out here and it's beautiful, so we got everybody still out here working and trying to get things done.”

As of this publication, the Stuart-Nechako region is forecast to get to a high of -11 C on Saturday (Jan. 18) for the Cariboo Cougars’ outdoor clash with the North West Hawks (5:30 p.m.), and -2 C on Sunday (Jan. 19) for the Northern Capitals’ game against the Greater Vancouver Comets (9 a.m.).

Free buses are scheduled to leave from Kin 1 Arena at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday for any residents wishing to witness the historic games in Fort St. James.