The puck drops Friday night (7 p.m.) on the Prince George Cougars’ 30th season in Prince George when they host against the Tri-City Americans in the first of a two-game weekend set.
“I think there’s a real buzz around the team,” said Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb.
Lamb heads into his fifth full season behind the Cougar bench and he’s seeing his efforts as general manager to build the team pay off in a veteran-savvy group expected to be among of the best of the bunch in the 22-team WHL.
Five Cougars are away at NHL camps, including G Tyler Brennan (New Jersey), D Ethan Samson (Philadelphia), G Ty Young (Vancouver), C Riley Heidt (Minnesota) and RW Koehn Ziemmer (Los Angeles). Brennan and Samson, both 20-year-olds, both appear ready for the pros but are still eligible to play one more year with the Cats.
“We’re still pretty young, basically we have a couple lines of veterans and then it drops off pretty good,” said Lamb.
Forwards Chase Wheatcroft and Jaxsen Wiebe aged out and have signed with NHL teams, while Cole Dubinsky also graduated from the junior ranks.
The Cougars’ power play ranked second in the WHL last season and Hudson Thornton was a big part of that while he set a team record for most goals (23) by a defenceman.
Hudson also had 74 points and if Samson is sent back to junior the Cougars’ D could well rank among the best in the league with the likes of Viliam Kmec, Keaton Dowhaniuk, Bauer Dumanski, Erphram McNutt and Tyson Buczkowsky back for more.
Newly-hired assistant coach Jim Playfair brings NHL pedigree as a former Calgary Flames head coach and he will oversee the defence corps.
“With where we left off, we’re happy with where we’re at. I’ll never go out and say (the BC Division) is ours to win but we’re feeling pretty good. You don’t know what other teams do in the summer and there’s been a lot of movement, so you really don’t know.”