Five former Cariboo Cougars make the jump to the WHL's Cougars
Connected by Cougars, these junior teammates share a similar path in hockey.
Five members of Prince George’s Western Hockey League team went through the city’s Major Midget option: defencemen Dan Gibb and Raymond Grewal, and forwards Jari Erricson, Chase Witala and Brett Roulston. It represents the highest number of former Cariboo Cougars on one WHL team.
The total is of little significance to the rest of the Cougars roster. But these five players gave praise to the Cariboo squad for helping them advance.
“It just shows how they develop players who are WHL ready as soon as they come out of the Cariboo Cougars organization,” says Erricson, a 1994-born Prince George product who skated with the Everett Silvertips for two seasons before joining the Cougars in the spring.
Coming off his 200th WHL game on the weekend, Gibb is the most experienced member of the group. A 1992-born overager who’s into his fourth and final WHL season, he’s spent his entire junior hockey tenure with the Cougars.
Gibb’s only season with the Cariboo squad was in 2008-09. But as a WHL player in Prince George, he stays in contact with the organization and its head coach, Trevor Sprague.
“He really stressed urgency with me. I was a fairly lackadaisical player in midget,” says Gibb, who was born in Cranbrook and raised in Prince George. “He kind of tuned it into my head that I needed to be more urgent out there, and just use my size. Not everybody is gifted with being over six foot, so really utilize that as much as I can, and try and be as mean as I can out there.”
Witala and Grewal, both 1995-born Prince George products, became property of the Cougars during the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. They were selected in the fifth round, Witala with the 89th choice and Grewal in the 107th position.
Witala, Roulston and Grewal were teammates on the 2010-11 Cariboo Cougars.
“It’s pretty much a reflection of the coaching staff and Prince George minor hockey too because all three of us came from there,” Grewal says. “It’s pretty special I guess. It’s probably not going to happen again.”
While Roulston and Grewal returned to the Cariboo squad for the 2011-12 campaign, Witala made the jump to the Cougars last year. In his rookie WHL season, he collected 23 points (nine goals and 14 assists) in 62 games.
“All my rep years I was more of an offensive guy,” Witala says. “I didn’t really play in the D zone very much and that’s where Sprague really got me to think about more of the D zone and help me out there a bit. That’s probably the biggest part of the game I learned.”
Roulston, a 1994-born WHL rookie, may have the best comeback story of the bunch. Although he was a member of the Major Midget Cougars for two years, he only played in one season due to injury. He was on the shelf for the entire 2010-11 campaign with back problems.
Roulston grew up in Whitehorse, Yukon, and spent a season playing rep hockey in Fort St. John before moving to Prince George in 2010.
“(The Cariboo Cougars) were good. They wouldn’t let me go on unless I was completely healthy which was pretty hard for me because I was really rearing to go there,” he says. “But they wouldn’t let me unless they knew I was fine, which I’m really thankful for. They were great with me, sticking with me the whole year and helping me in every way possible with physio and everything. It was good.”
Grewal points out obvious benefits to playing in the WHL for the Cougars.
“I stay at home, sleep in my own bed, eat my parents’ food and see all of the people I’m used to seeing all the time. I don’t know what it’d be like to adjust (to a move), I think it’d be pretty tough.”