For the Cariboo Cougars, an invitation to the world-famous Mac's Midget AAA Hockey Tournament was far from certain. But the club found out last week that, for the 14th consecutive year, it would be on the Mac's schedule.
The Mac's starts on Boxing Day in Calgary and runs through Jan. 1. The tournament has been held every year since 1978 and counts some of the biggest names in the game as alumni. Among the players who have suited up in the Mac's are Sidney Crosby, Jordan Eberle, Zach Parise, Trevor Linden, Mike Modano, Jarome Iginla and current Prince George Cougars general manager Mark Lamb.
This season in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League, the 15- to 17-year-old Cariboo Cougars started slowly, with a 2-3-2 record through their first seven games. But a 3-2 road win against the Thompson Blazers on Oct. 20 was the beginning of a seven-game winning streak and that string of success cemented their inclusion in the Mac's.
"Fourteen years in a row is pretty exceptional for northern British Columbia to (be represented at the Mac's)," said Cougars general manager Trevor Sprague. "It's a pretty prestigious tournament and it's prestigious to us because it's about the best midget teams in the country."
In their own province, the Cougars have been consistently strong. Most years, they are at or near the top of the standings in the 11-team BCHMML. After a Saturday tie (2-2) and a Sunday loss (3-1) in Richmond against the Greater Vancouver Canadians, they currently have a 9-4-3-0 record and are in fifth place. The gap between them and the first-place Fraser Valley Thunderbirds, however, is just four points. It should also be noted that the Cougars have barely touched home ice so far this season. Twelve of their first 16 games have been played in opposition rinks.
Given the Cats' sluggish start to the year and the lack of favours from the league schedule maker, head coach Tyler Brough tips his hat to his players for making sure Mac's organizers wanted the team in the mix once again.
"I'm not too sure if there are any teams outside of Calgary that have been (in the tournament) 14 years in a row," he said. "It's something to be proud of as an organization. For this year's team, kind of from the outside looking in, we had a bit of a slow start and the last month we've had, winning seven in a row really put us into the tournament. It was a team goal and (the players) really battled through and pulled together."
The Cougars have enjoyed recent success at the Mac's. They were tournament champions for the first time in 2015 when they defeated the Regina Pat Canadians 2-1 in double overtime in the final. In 2016 and 2017, they made it to the semifinals but lost to the Lloydminster Bobcats and Belarus National Under-17 team respectively. At the 2018 Mac's, the Cougars finished with a 1-2-1 record and missed the playoffs.
The 2019 Mac's schedule has not yet been released. Before the Cougars leave for Calgary, they have eight more league games, starting with two this weekend in Nanaimo against the North Island Silvertips. The Cats will finally be back in the comfortable confines of Kin 1 on Dec. 1-2 when they host the Vancouver Northwest Hawks. Then will come Dec. 8-9 games in Langley and Delta against the Valley West Giants and Dec. 15-16 home contests against the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds.
The Cariboo Cougars minor midget team was in Chase on the weekend and posted a 2-1 record against the Thompson Blazers. The Cougars won 3-2 on Friday, lost 5-2 on Saturday and won 4-3 on Sunday.
In the standings, the Cougars are second with a 9-2-1-0 record and the Blazers are fifth at 6-4-1-1.
Next league games for the Cougars are Dec. 7-9 at Kin 1 against the Thunderbirds.
The Northern Capitals of the B.C. Hockey Female Midget Triple-A League will be back in their skates on Friday at Kin 2 (6 p.m.) for the start of a three-game series against the Thompson Okanagan Lakers. The teams will play again Saturday at 5:45 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m.
The Capitals (4-7-1-0) and Lakers (0-9-1-0) are fourth and fifth in the five team league.