Fresh from his audition with the Philadelphia Flyers, Prince George Cougars defenceman Ethan Samson returned in time for Saturday’s season-opening game against the Kamloops Blazers figuring his parents, Shawn and Terri, would be there at CN Centre to watch the game.
They made the trip all right, and brought along 19 friends and family members from Delta to form a Samson family cheering section. Seeing all those No. 4 Samson jerseys in the crowd wasn’t quite enough to inspire the 18-year-old and his team to victory – the Cats gave up a late power-play goal and lost 5-4 to the Blazers - but it was pleasant surprise that certainly made his day.
“I only thought that my mom and dad and my girlfriend and her parents were coming, but it turned out I had a lot more family coming out to support me and it was nice to see,” said Samson. “It’s a good feeling having fans in the building again and how much my family supports me and how much they’ve done for me to get me to where I am. It’s just a big confidence boost. It shows I have a lot of people in my corner I can rely on and it just makes me want to go out there and be that much better.”
Samson just got back last Tuesday from his first NHL training camp. Drafted in the sixth round this year by the Philadelphia Flyers, he spent several weeks with the Flyers rookies and was then invited to main camp with the veterans. Samson’s parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends had their flights booked to Prince George and his extended stay with the Flyers had everybody on edge while they awaited word on when he was coming back to the Cougars.
“He didn’t know, but we planned it back in August and we were a little worried that he might not be back in time,” said Shawn Samson. “His billet family happened to be camping with us (when the trip was planned). All of a sudden there was 21 of us and it worked out fantastic.”
Samson is billeted by Steve and Alicia Carter, who also house Cougar veterans Majid Kaddoura and Jonny Hooker. The Carters had all the Samson clan over for a pre-game get-together just before Saturday’s game, telling them to come over as soon as the boys left for the rink to keep the secret intact.
Terri has her own business as an event planner, while Shawn works in flight operations for Harbour Air and his company always has tickets for Vancouver Giants games in Langley and a box suite for Victoria Royals’ home games. Whenever the Cougars visit Vancouver, Victoria, Everett or Seattle, chances are there will be dozens of Samson supporters watching in the crowd. They'll be there in Langley on Friday when the Cats visit the Giants in their first road game.
While he was with the Flyers, Samson scored a goal in one of the rookie prospects games in Tarrytown, N.Y., a 6-3 win over the New York Rangers.
He also took part in the main camp and played in the Flyers Black vs. Orange intrasquad game. In that game, Flyers centre Claude Giroux, a 14-year NHL veteran who tallied 102 points three seasons ago, went one-on-one with Samson, caught him flat-footed and left him fishing for the puck as he broke in and scored. It was humbling experience but one that Samson will probably never forget.
“He’s a good player and he made a pretty good move on me and caught me standing still, he’s elite, the top of the top,” said Samson. “When I got back to the bench they told me, don’t worry, he does that to NHL guys.
“It was awesome, I learned a lot there and got to work with some really good players and good coaches who helped me with certain things I need to tighten up for my season. I’ve tried to bring back as much as I could to share with the team here an hope to help push the boys forward so they can do the same thing.
“It was an amazing feeling (to get drafted), something you always dream of as a kid. Now I know, after my first camp experience, what to expect for next year and I know what to work on to go in there and have the toolset ready to go.”
Samson likes the cast of characters the Cougars have this season, with 20 returning players, and expects them to build on their spring season successes in the B.C Division bubble, when they finished 9-10-2-1 as the top wildcard team in the Western Conference.
He was among the leading scorers on the team last season with a goal and 12 assists in 22 games and he jumped up the charts of NHL scouts early with his impressive skating skills, smart puck-moving decisions and ability to lay the body on his opponents. He showed his physical nature in Saturday’s game when he pasted Blazer forward Caden Bankier with clean check into the side boards and later in the first period left his six-foot-three, 183-pound imprint on Dylan Sydor with a crunching hit behind the Cougar net.
Samson played minor hockey with the Burnaby Winter Club and went on to play two seasons with the Delta Hockey Academy. He was picked by the Cougars in the third round, 65th overall in the 2018 WHL draft. This is his third season with the Cougars and last week he was named an assistant captain.
“That was big for him,” said Shawn, who coached him as far as the atom level. “He’s happy to be a leader and he wants to show he’s one of the guys you can look up to and hopefully he’ll help them along the way. In a couple years they’re going to be a really good team.”