Net protectors

Cariboo Cougars start season with new faces in goal

Two players brand new to the Cariboo Cougars, both from Quesnel, will share the netminding chores on this season's B.C. Hockey Major Midget League club.

The Cougars will be relying on 17-year-old Xavier Cannon and 15-year-old Colton Phillips-Watts to stop opposition shots. Cannon was in the league last season as a member of the Kootenay Ice and is a prospect of the Western Hockey League's Tri-City Americans. Based on his level of experience, he'll be given the opportunity to be the Cariboo starter but will likely be pushed by a very talented Phillips-Watts, who plied his trade last season at the Okanagan Hockey Academy.

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"The Kootenay Ice did beat us one game last year here at home and that had a lot to do with (Cannon)," said Cougars general manager Trevor Sprague. "Being a six-foot-four goalie is a good thing and he's got lots of experience in our league. He came back from Tri-City (training camp) and he's a guy that's going to be a big member of our hockey club."

Phillips-Watts, meanwhile, is similar to former Cariboo goalie Marcus Allen in that he plays an attacking, aggressive style and is highly competitive when he's in the crease. Phillips-Watts was invited to a WHL camp with the Prince George Cougars and made a good impression on the team's hockey operations staff.

"He has earned his way as a 15-year-old to be on our team," Sprague said. "It's probably a long time since a 15-year-old's been on our team as a goaltender. He's a young man that's probably going to push a guy like Cannon to be good every night."

The Cougars start their 40-game regular season tonight (6 p.m., Kin 1) against the Valley West Giants. The teams will also meet at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

With the Cariboo Cougars minor midget team a new entity this hockey season, Phillips-Watts is one of just two 15-year-olds on the major club. The other is local forward Fischer O'Brien, a 2018 WHL bantam draft selection of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Even though he's at the youngest end of the age scale in the BCHMML, O'Brien should contribute to the Cariboo offence.

"He's a local guy and his brother (Brogan) has been an offensive hockey player for the Prince George Spruce Kings and the Prince George Cougars," Sprague said. "He's a young man that made the team at 15. Brogan didn't make the team at 15. It shows (Fischer O'Brien's) attention to detail on being a pretty good player at 15 years old to play probably in our top six (forwards). He needs to earn it, which he has so far."

Sprague said he isn't expecting the Cariboo squad to have a dominating offensive player this season. Instead, he's anticipating a healthy amount of scoring depth from the forwards on through to the defencemen.

Other members of this year's team are returning forwards Grady Thomas (the team captain), Brendan Pigeon, Brett Fudger and Lane Goodwin, as well as forwards Cody Bailey, Jaxon Danilec, Curtis Hammond, Brennan Bott, John Herrington, Alex Ochitwa, Booker Daniels (Tri-City Americans prospect) and Connor Fleming. On defence, the Cougars feature returnees Max Arnold, Jacob Gendron and Matthew Marotta, and newcomers Ethan Floris, Carson Golder and local product Mathew Magrath, a 2017 bantam draft pick of the Prince George Cougars.

Tyler Brough is back for his second season as Cariboo head coach. His assistants this year are brothers and Cariboo alumni RJay Berra (2007-08) and Hayden-James Berra (2011-12).

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