Forty-six Cougars are now camping out at CN Centre, hoping they will make the final cuts.
All but two of the players suiting up for the Cougars five-day training camp are from Western Canadian provinces. This weekend marks the debut of European imports Liekit Reichle of Switzerland and Jozef Kmec of Slovakia in Cougar uniforms.
Reichle, an 18-year old forward, was chosen by the Cougars in the first round, 23rd overall, in the 2021 Canadian Hockey League import draft. He suited up last season for the GCK Lions of the Swiss under-20 league and led his team with 20 goals and 75 points in 43 games. The six-foot-one, 183-pound native of Zurich was the third-leading pointgetter in the Swiss junior league and went on to play for Switzerland at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship in Texas.
Kmec, a 2004-born defenceman, was chosen by the Cougars in the second round of the 2021 Canadian Hockey League import draft, 104th overall. The six-foot-three, 198-pound native of Kosice was one of 29 players named to the Slovakian roster for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He had four assists in 27 games last season for the Slovakian under-18 team.
The Cougars have 20 players (11 forwards, six defencemen, three goalies) back from the team that wrapped up the 22-game 2021 WHL season in May with a 9-10-2-1 record. Only two of those returning goalies (Tyler Brennan and Ty Young) are in action this weekend at CN Centre. Taylor Gauthier, the 20-year-old incumbent netminder, is attending the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp this weekend in Toronto. Gauthier’s absence will give the Cougars’ brass a better chance to watch 16-year-old Owen Reed of Smithers stopping pucks for Team Brough.
The Cougars had hoped to have 19-year-old winger Mitch Kohner back in time for training camp but he was unable to cross the border from his home in Rosemont, Minn., because he received his second COVID-19 vaccination on Aug. 31, too late to serve the required waiting period to come to Canada.
The Cougars 17-and-under players competed in the Prospects Game which kicked off training camp Thursday night at CN Centre. Team White, led by two-goal efforts from Prince George minor hockey product Ryan Toor, Riley Heidt and Zach Shantz, topped Team Black 7-4. Caden Brown and Ryker Singer, both first-rounders in the 2020 WHL draft, scored for White.
Training camp scrimmages get underway today at 5:30 p.m. with Team Hirsche (Black) taking on Team Witala) White in a 90-minute game.
Team Brough will have to wait until Saturday at 9:15 a.m. for its first game, against Team Witala. Training camp games are also scheduled for Saturday at 2:15 p.m. (Brough vs. Hirsche) and 7:15 p.m. (Hirsche vs. Witala), and on Sunday at 10:45 a.m. (Brough vs. Witala) and 5:15 p.m. (Brough vs. HIrsche).
All players have gone through on-ice testing and will practice with their teams over the next two days. Head coach and general manager Mark Lamb will make the initial cuts for players not involved in the Cougars’ intrasquad game following practice/workouts Monday morning.
That will pair the roster down to two teams for the Brewer-Hamhuis intrasquad game Monday at 7 p.m. The game, which will decide the Rob Charney Cup, named after the former Cougar scout who died of cancer in 2013, is open to everyone who can provide proof of vaccination. All fans must wear masks at all times.
The Cougars’ preseason and regular season schedules have changed as a result of the pandemic continuing to be problematic in its fourth wave. The WHL announced earlier this week that due to border restrictions for non-essential travel it is delaying games until later in the season for its six U.S. Division teams that involve playing Canadian-based teams. Inter-divisional play against Western Conference opponents won’t start until Nov. 3 and until than the Cougars will play only within the B.C. Division.
The Cats have also added one home preseason game to their four-game exhibition calendar. They will play the Kamloops Blazers at CN Centre on Wednesday, Sept. 15 and again on Saturday, Sept. 18. The Sept. 15 game will replace a game originally scheduled for Kamloops on Sept. 17. The Cougars open the regular season Oct. 2 at CN Centre against the Blazers.