March 4, 2016
by Jason Peters / Prince George Citizen
The South Island Royals delivered a huge playoff upset last year.
The Cariboo Cougars don’t plan on becoming the next victim.
The Cougars and Royals will open a best-of-three B.C. Hockey Major Midget League quarterfinal series March 4 at Kin 1.
The puck will drop at 3:30 p.m. and, when it does, the second-seeded Cats will do everything in their power to prevent the seventh-ranked Royals from gaining any momentum.
The Cougars will be looking for a fast start against a team that will have endured close to 12 hours of travel time to get here.
“They’ve got a long (trip) so hopefully we can try and take advantage of that – see if we can take advantage of them having a slow start if they do,” said Cougars captain Riley Coish.
“The start is important (for us). Obviously it’s playoffs, first game, and everyone will be a bit nervous but we’ll get that out as soon as possible and just start playing our game as quick as we can.”
Last year, the Royals also entered playoffs as the seventh seed. In the first round, they took on the second-seeded Vancouver Northwest Giants and eliminated them in three games (3-2 win, 3-2 loss, 2-1 win).
This regular season, the Cougars finished with a 29-8-3 record, while the Royals went 15-18-7. Head-to-head, the Cats won all four meetings. Scores were 4-0, 5-2, 2-1 and 2-1.
In the last two games, Jan. 16-17 on Vancouver Island, the Cariboo club was still adjusting to life without leading point-getters Chase DuBois and Colton Thomas.
DuBois had suffered a broken ankle a couple weeks earlier and Thomas had gone down with a dislocated kneecap at the Mac’s tournament at Christmas time.
“We had to change our identity,” said Cougars head coach Trevor Sprague. “Our younger guys were getting a little bit more ice time so they had to make some adjustments and they did a great job making those adjustments. When your 15- and 16-year-olds can come in and start picking up where those guys left off, that’s awesome. And it shows good leadership within our dressing room – a guy like Coish who is a very hardworking, 200-foot player and has a lot of expectations out of every player on our team.”
Coish, a Smithers product who turned 18 last month, said the Cougars will have to play a “heavy game” against the Royals.
“We have a big, fast team and we’ve got to use that to our advantage, making sure we’re having lots of zone time and lots of shots,” he said. “That will transition into a couple goals I’m sure.”
Sprague added that disciplined play will be important for the Cougars, who were the fourth-most penalized club in the 10-team league during the regular season. The play of goaltenders Dorrin Luding and Aaron Jakubowski will also be key.
“If you’re going to win anything, you have to have great goaltending,” Sprague said.
“We’ll be going with Luding (Friday), and Jakubowski, based on his record, he deserves a start on Saturday. We’ll play that a little bit by ear depending on how things go the first night.”
Luding, in his second season with the Cougars, had a 10-5-1 record this season and a goals-against average of 2.42. Jakubowski, a first-year Cat, went 15-2-0 with a goals-against of 2.52.
Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 3:45 p.m. at Kin 1. If a third game is required, it will start at 10 a.m. Sunday at the same rink.
The other three quarterfinals will also be played this weekend. The eventual playoff champion will take on the Alberta winner in a best-of-three Pacific series that will serve as a qualifier for the Telus Cup national tournament, April 19-24 in Quispamsis, N.B.
The Cougars will host the 2017 Telus Cup.
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