For the Prince George Cougars, the 2008-09 season has been an unusual one.
Unpredictability is what makes sports so entertaining. Moves on and off the ice give sports fans plenty of topics to discuss.
Once again, the Cougars have made plenty of headlines during the 2008-09 campaign. While much is the news surrounding Prince George’s Western Hockey League team is similar to previous seasons, there’s been no shortage of surprising new developments.
A year ago, a relatively different Cougars team was built for the future. When this season began in September, they appeared to have turned away from that gameplan, at least on paper, as they made moves to turn into one of the older organizations in the league. Interesting moves, to say the least.
On the ice the team’s performance throughout the season has also been inconsistent. They opened the season with six wins in their first seven games before that horrendous nine-game road swing in October in which they returned home with one win and eight losses.
November saw the team continue to struggle, leading to the firing of head coach Drew Schoneck on Dec. 1. Since previous assistant coach Wade Klippenstein took over for Schoneck, the Cougars have eight wins, nine losses, zero overtime setbacks and a shootout defeat (8-9-0-1). Entering their road game this evening against the Edmonton Oil Kings, the Cougars are sporting a record of 18-27-0-2, good for 38 points. They hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the 10-team Western Conference.
Looking further into their record, roster and developments during the 2008-09 season, there have been a few developments that were unpredictable. The impact on the team has been good and bad:
First off, there’s those dreadful doubleheaders. Only this season, they haven’t been bad.
In past campaigns, visiting teams would leave Prince George with, at the very least, a split in a two-game set at CN Centre.
That hasn’t been the case this season. Despite sitting eighth in their conference, the Cougars have managed four doubleheader sweeps, a feat they couldn’t reach during more successful seasons. The Seattle Thunderbirds (Sept. 19 and 20), Chilliwack Bruins (Oct. 3 and 4) and Everett Silvertips (Dec. 5 and 6) each dropped doubleheaders at CN Centre before the Kelowna Rockets couldn’t muster a win last weekend.
They’re sporting an 8-6 mark in double dips and have played in seven of them thus far. If you think their winning record in doubleheaders is odd, what’s stranger is they have yet to split a two-game set this season. The Vancouver Giants (Nov. 7 and 8), Rockets (Nov. 21 and 22) and Tri-City Americans (Jan. 2 and 3) were 2-0 winners in their two-game sets.
Then, there’s been the emergence of 16-year-old rookie forward Brett Connolly. Playing with maturity beyond his years, Connolly has quickly established himself as a leader on the Cougars.
Connolly, a first-round draft choice of the Cougars in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft, hasn’t shocked anybody by making the team and contributing. What’s been a pleasant surprise is his rise to clutch performer and leading scorer on the team. With 40 points (20 goals and 20 assists), he’s already set the franchise rookie record for points in a season.
Falling under the category of an unfortunate surprise was the season-ending knee injury to 19-year-old forward Dana Tyrell. Although he’s battled knee problems in the past, discovering this injury would keep Tyrell out of the Cougars’ lineup for the remainder of the season was a major setback. The team had already explored the option of trading Tyrell, their top player on the market, to continue rebuilding for the future.
Also deserving of recognition as an unpredictable development this season is the emergence of 20-year-old overage rookie and Prince George native Brian Matte, who’s third in team scoring with 16 goals and sports one of the team’s best plus-minus figures at -2. Could anybody have imagined he’d have this big an impact when the preseason began?
Several other Cougars have made their mark, and with so many interesting story lines already, what can we expect for February? It’s anybody’s guess.
Interested in hearing what Alistair McInnis has to say about local sports? The Free Press sports editor is also a regular member of the panel on Friday Night Lights, a weekly radio sports talk show on 93.1 CFIS-FM. The show runs every Friday beginning at 6 p.m., breaking for Panago Spruce Kings hockey, and ending at 11 p.m.