Taking it outside

Cariboo Cougars to be part of first-ever outdoor game in B.C. Hockey Major Midget League

The Cariboo Cougars will play in a history-making outdoor hockey game early in the new year.
The Cougars will face the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs on Jan. 20 at the Ernie Sam Memorial Arena, located on Nak’azdli Whut’en territory in Fort St. James. The regular-season contest – dubbed the Northern Winter Classic – will be the first-ever outdoor game for the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League, which has been in operation since 2004.
“First and foremost, it’s a pretty historic moment for the team and for the league, I guess,” said Cougars head coach Tyler Brough. “(General manager) Trevor (Sprague) has put a lot of hard work into it, trying to organize it for it to come into fruition. It’s pretty historic and something we’re looking forward to.”
In the current BCHMML standings, the fourth-place Cougars have a 9-3-2-0 record and the second-place Chiefs sit at 9-4-2-1. Based on those numbers, the game figures to be a highly competitive one.
For 17-year-old Cariboo forward Lane Goodwin, the game will have special meaning. Goodwin was born and raised in Fort St. James and will be skating in front of aunts and uncles, as well as tons of friends.
“It’s going to be great,” Goodwin said. “Obviously I know a lot of people there and it’s going to be nice to have them come out and watch me, for all the people that can’t come to P.G. for the games. It will be good for the town too, to have some good hockey that they can come and watch.”
Goodwin said he has never before played on the outdoor rink, which features a covered ice surface, as well as regulation boards and glass.
“It didn’t used to have that great of ice,” he said. “I’ve never really gone on it. I’ve mostly skated at the Fort Forum and out on the lake.
“(Playing outdoors) is going to be awesome. It’s going to be different, that’s for sure, because I’ve never really played a real game outside. It’s going to be good to try something new out – first time in B.C. major midget hockey.”
The outdoor idea was hatched last January when the Cougars traveled to Fort St. James for a pair of league games, also against the Chiefs. On the way into town, the Cariboo team bus passed by the Ernie Sam Memorial Arena and that put the wheels in motion inside Sprague’s head.
“We were driving through Nak’azdli and saw that they had the rink that had the roof over it,” he said. “I was like, ‘I think it would be pretty cool to have an outdoor game there.’ So that’s kind of how it came about.
“Dealing with the District of Fort St. James, the minor hockey association in Fort St. James, we had those two games and there’s a lot of passion for hockey there, a lot of great hockey people. We actually have a lot of sponsors from there as well, that support our hockey club, so those things all came into play.”
Sprague later met with the Nak’azdli council, including Chief Alec McKinnon, and they were unanimously in favour of the idea. Discussions with the Fort St. James Minor Hockey Association were also held. Approval from B.C. Hockey and Hockey Canada was also necessary.
“All our players are insured through them,” Sprague said of the two organizations. “They look after the best interests of our players and our staff. It was just making sure that the engineering plans were in place – so when the rink was built – and there were a couple questions. They were like, ‘If everybody’s happy, we’d like to move ahead with the game.’ They had all the information they needed to approve it and that was our biggest hurdle.”
McKinnon said it’s “very exciting” to have the game between the Cougars and Chiefs coming to the Nak’azdli Whut’en’s outdoor surface.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It took about a year to work on this, from when Trevor Sprague of the Cariboo Cougars first approached me about it. The Cougars and the east Vancouver team were excited to see our outside rink and were wondering if they could skate on it.
“I can’t wait until the day (of the game) comes and I hope everybody has a great time – that it’s fun and I hope it continues on for years to come. And I hope the weather cooperates,” he added with a laugh.
As for the potential challenge of the elements, Goodwin and the rest of the players and coaches will have to be ready for anything.
“Hopefully it’s a nice sunny day out, where we don’t have to be freezing cold out there,” Goodwin said. “I don’t know – hopefully we’ll have some good weather. I think it’s just hockey when we get out there. It might be a little bit different but I think we’ve just got to prepare the same way and just keep playing.”
Added Brough: “I’m sure we’ll be bundled up,” he said in reference to himself and the Cariboo staff. “It has the potential to be minus 30 so we’ll prepare for that, for sure.”
The Cougars and Chiefs will also square off on Jan. 19 inside the Fort Forum.
Also on the Jan. 19-20 weekend, B.C. Hockey will host development camps for players from three local Indigenous bands, the Fort St. James Minor Hockey Association and the Burns Lake Minor Hockey Association.
McKinnon said he thinks the two games and the development camps will have a positive impact on the Nak’azdli youth.
“I think it’s going to inspire them – give them hope and dreams,” he said. “Really big dreams is one thing we try to encourage in our youth – the sky is the limit and beyond. So I’m hoping it will inspire them and get them back into physical activity, not just hockey but all activities.”
In other Cariboo Cougars news, the team found out Monday night it has been invited to the prestigious Mac’s Midget Tournament for the 14th year in a row. The Mac’s runs from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day in Calgary.
The Prince George-based Cougars are formed by the top 15- to 17-year-old players in the northern region of the province.
 

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