Young aspiring Prince George hockey players rise through the minor ranks every year getting to the highest level with the dream of turning pro.
In recognizing the game’s growth in the region and the recent success of its umbrella teams, the Cariboo Cougars, along with B.C. Hockey, have established a six-step development system ‘suitable for the north’ in helping athletes receive training and opportunities to compete on a big stage.
For scouts and coaches alike, the new business model is based on strong communication with players, preparing them for the next step at each transitional stage of their young careers, while getting the chance to represent their region.
General Manager Trevor Sprague is the brains of the operation and was recently welcomed back to the Prince George Cougars as their northern and B.C. Major Midget League (BCMML) scout.
He tells PrinceGeorgeMatters when developing a player and then looking at them as a scout, you don’t necessarily have to look far to find dedication and commitment.
“We look at skillsets, but size doesn’t matter,” he said. “How they think the game, which structure they have in their game, and what they’ve been taught is what we look for. Every level you go, it’s about how hard you’re willing to work and how smart you are. So, at some point in time, if you make the NHL based on that and the role you’re playing, then you’ll play in the NHL.”
By focusing the system on bringing in players ‘close to home,’ the Cariboo Cougars organization, which also includes the Female Midget AAA Northern Capitals, says parents will be able to witness their child’s development and understand how the process works inside and out.
Sprague is the winningest head coach in Cariboo Cougars’ history prior to taking his GM role.
Having seen a recent crop of players thrive in the major and minor systems, he believes for an athlete looking to move up in the ranks, they need to be accountable as a person off-ice to help gain the confidence to perform on-ice.
“Being accountable in school, then hockey. You’re getting team tactics, you’re getting skill development, and, you know, they’re on the ice six days a week for practice and then you got your games or a tournament on the weekend. We may not play all year round, but when we get around in November for a season, other teams in our leagues will start to dwindle, but January comes around and we’re still firing away.”
The Cariboo Cougars GM also uses the example of current NHLer Brandon Manning as a Prince George player who came a long way to get to the professional ranks of Philadelphia, Chicago, and Edmonton, albeit through a different development system in his time.
“[Manning] was unknown until Midget, but played rep hockey, played for Cariboo, played for the Spruce Kings, then the WHL, and now the NHL. Same thing with Turner Stephenson years ago. He got drafted by New Jersey, but when he was in minor hockey, his development was slower. He then got the opportunity to play in Seattle in the WHL, and boom, he’s in the NHL based on being a hard-working guy. It’s good to see the success stories for these young guys.”
From the Prince George Cougars’ perspective on the new system, General Manager and Head Coach Mark Lamb says everyone involved will be scratching each other’s backs moving forward, believing this can open a new door to give local players the chance to play in front of friends and family.
“We just don’t want this to benefit us,” said Lamb. “We want this to benefit every group, and its all about development. In order for us to do a good job, we need a lot of eyes, we need a lot of help. There’s a lot of good hockey minds, but I don’t think the Prince George Cougars have done a real good job at getting a lot of players from the north. We get a lot of players from all over, but there are still players we haven’t seen. With this relationship, we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
The Cariboo umbrella will continue to welcome players from B.C.’s north as well as Yukon and in the Northwest Territories in the six-step program.
The head coaches leading the six teams for the 2019-20 season and will be involved in communicating the development of players with each other, as well as the Prince George Cougars, are as follows:
- Tyler Brough - Cariboo Major Midget Cougars
- Mario Desjardins - Female Midget AAA Northern Capitals
- Jason Garneau - North Central Midget AA Bobcats
- Ryan Howse - Minor Midget Cougars
- Mirsad Mujcin - Cariboo Major Bantam Cougars
- Brent McIsaac - North Central Bantam AA Bobcats