The Cariboo Cougars will get to play for a national hockey championship.
They've got a spot already wrapped up now that Prince George has won the right to host the Telus Cup midget national championship in April 2017. In a Hockey Canada vote, Prince George was picked over competing bid from Langley.
"Prince George is a hockey community along with the north and what we did with the Canada Winter Games, hosting Canada on that stage, was outstanding for us to do here and Hockey Canada and BC Hockey are confident that we'll knock it out of the park," said Trevor Sprague, head coach and general manager of the Cariboo Cougars, who will have an automatic berth in the 2017 championship as host team.
A Cariboo Cougars committee headed by Shawn Rice and Jane Newman put together the bid package and submitted it on March 11, 10 days after Hockey Canada asked the local group to apply to host to the tournament.
"We only had eight days to put it together, everybody else had six months, so it was quite a whirlwind week with meetings," said Sprague. "It was outstanding what Shawn Rice and Jane Newman were able to put together."
Prince George hosted the event in 2001, when it was known as the Air Canada Cup. The midget Cougars had applied to host the 2012 tournament but lost out to Leduc, Alta. Although the committee had short notice to brush up on its 2012 bid, it received strong support from committee members Andy Beesley of the WHL Cougars, Jack Fomenoff of CIF Construction and John Morrison of Western Equipment. Sprague said CN Centre manager Glen Mikkelson and mayor Lyn Hall also backed the bid to help sway the Hockey Canada vote.
Beesley ,a former manager of the Cariboo Cougars who is now the WHL Cougars' business manager,told Sprague his organization will do whatever it takes to help make the 2017 Telus Cup an organizational success. Sprague, a scout with the WHL team, said the Cougars will pursue a bid to host the 2019 Memorial Cup, which follows a similar organizational format to the Telus Cup.
"We're a hockey town, there's nowhere else on all of Canada or North America that has a WHL team, a junior A team and a major midget team," said Sprague. "We breed hockey players up here and we represent well."
BC Hockey president Randy Henderson said Prince George has a proven track record with Hockey Canada in hosting national hockey events like the 2001 Air Canada Cup midget tournament, the 2007 RBC Royal Bank Cup junior A tournament, and the 2015 Canada Winter Games, which carried considerable weight with Hockey Canada.
Henderson has no doubt local hockey fans and sponsors will support the Telus Cup, which will bring four regional champions and the host team together in a week-long tournament.
"I couldn't be happier for them, I think it's a real compliment to the team and its management and a compliment to Prince George for the way the city has hosted events similar to this in the past," said Henderson.
"The hockey at the (2001 Air Canada Cup) was fantastic. It's the best midgets from across the country and unlike a U-16 select team, these guys will have played together all year, they'll have their systems in place and it just makes for really fast hockey (that) is a treat to watch."
"We'll have the best boys in the country here and I have every confidence that from the city, right down to minor hockey to the Cougars, there's going to be a lot of solid effort to make sure that this is an event that puts Prince George on the map again."
The tournament, April 16-22, starts on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday. All five teams will play each other once in a round-robin format before the playoff round begins. All games will be played at CN Centre, unless the WHL Cougars are still involved in their playoffs, in which case, the tournament would be moved to the Coliseum.
Sprague and Citizen advertising manager Dave Smith were the assistant coaches in 2001 under head coach Brent Arsenault with the Coast Inn of the North Cougars team that won the Pacific regional midget title that year, while the Calgary Royals took the host team slot in the Air Canada Cup national tournament.
"If history could repeat itself, that would be nice," Sprague said.
This past season, the midget Cougars won the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League regular season title and were crowned champions of the prestigious Mac's tournament in Calgary but lost in the playoff final to the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs.
Sprague said next season's team will be at the young end of the 15-and 16-year-old age spectrum. He's hopeful the chance to play in a national championship will make it easier for the Cougars to recruit the best players in the region.
"This year we're looking for guys that, for the most part, are here for a two-year commitment," said Sprague. "We have to keep a nucleus of the guys in and then put a couple pieces of the puzzle together for next year to kind of get us over the hump."
The national midget championship began in 1973 as the Wrigley Cup and became the Air Canada Cup in 1979. Telus took over as the major sponsor in 2004.
The tournament has been hosted in B.C. only three times -- Victoria in 1982, Kamloops in 1996 and Prince George in 2001. Prince George will join Oshawa, Ont., Moncton, N.B., and Calgary as the only cities to host the event twice.