They may be the ‘underdog’ going into this year’s postseason, but the Cariboo Cougars are confident they can claw out back-to-back banners.
The Major Midget Cats closed out the 2019-20 schedule with nine wins in 10 games, all in the comforts of Kin 1 Arena, but due to some earlier losses and other teams seeded above them on the winning side as well, they claimed fifth in the season standings.
This means they’ll start the playoffs on the road and, unless an upset takes place, could be in that scenario through until potentially lifting the BC Major Midget League (BCMML) trophy a second straight year.
“We challenged the group, we figured we had to win our way out to give ourselves a chance and we were right and just came up short. So ending on a winning note is always good,” said Head Coach Tyler Brough as three points separated fifth place from second in the regular season.
“It was a battle, we knew it was going to be a battle going throughout the season and couple points we dropped here and there cost us. But as it goes, the end of our season was pretty good, you know, we were on a 10-game unbeaten streak, so we’re hoping to take that into playoffs. We knew once the season kind of came to a close in the last 20 games, we knew we were going to play a good team in the playoffs.”
That team will be Fraser Valley, the club they beat to win the 2019 title in the Thunderbirds’ home rink, but lost in the finals a season earlier in Prince George.
The two teams will meet in the 2020 quarter-finals, but Cougars’ John Herrington anticipates the best-of-three series to be as aggressive as if it were a fight for all the marbles.
“We have beat them, but we’ve also been beaten by them, so if we’re going to show up, then we’re going to win,” said the 17-year-old captain.
“All this year, it’s been a battle between us and them. For half of us, we want to beat them based on last year. As a 15-year-old, I [affiliated] with Cariboo and we lost to Fraser Valley in Prince George. So, in my 16-year-old season, I played ‘not liking them’ and now it’s kind of carried over to this year too.”
The Cats claimed a 27-10-2-1 record this season, while also cracking the top four in the 2020 Mac’s Tournament in Calgary and hosted its second annual outdoor hockey game in Nak'azdli/Fort St. James in January.
In the four-game season series, they outlasted the Thunderbirds 2-1-1, including one win and one tie on home ice roughly three weeks ago.
While Cariboo understands they have their work cut out for them, Brough says adjustments will easily be made even with his team hitting the road for this weekend.
He says so as long as defence is heavy on the sticks and clearing pucks away from their own net and offence is banging home rebounds for goals, it doesn’t matter where the boys play.
“It’s almost a little more comfortable on the road,” Brough stated with confidence.
“We get into our routine [...] it’s pretty locked down on the road than at home because there’s a lot of distractions. These guys are pretty focused, they’re pretty locked in to what we have to do and that’s win two games in a best-of-three in a tough building to play against a good hockey team, a well-coached team, and we’re going to prepare as best as we can.”
From the captain’s perspective, Herrington says he encourages his team to look back on their success this season both inside and outside of league-play.
“Just let them know that we’ve beaten every team already this year, we beat the top team at the Mac’s already, we beat the top team in Alberta at the Mac’s; we’re a good hockey team, it’s just, when we perform, we’re going to win games. We just got to show up and play hard.”
The Cats and T-Birds square off in MSA Arena, where Cariboo won it all last year, 7 p.m. both Friday (March 13) and Saturday (March 14).
If necessary, Game Three is scheduled for Sunday (March 15) at 12:30 p.m.