Cariboo Cougars clinch second spot
The Cariboo Cougars will enter the B.C. Major Midget League playoffs next month ranked second.
In a midget hockey doubleheader at CN Centre on the weekend, the Cougars swept the South Island Royals, wins of 8-1 on Saturday and 7-2 on Sunday. With only two games remaining on their 40-game regular-season schedule, the Cariboo squad sports a record of 30 wins, seven losses and one tie (30-7-1).
The 2012-13 BCMML regular season wraps up this weekend. The Cougars play on the road against the Vancouver North East Chiefs on Saturday and Sunday.
Sunday’s victory was the Cougars’ eighth in a row and they’re undefeated in their last 12 games. The Cougars haven’t suffered a loss since a 4-2 setback against the Valley West Hawks on Jan. 6 at CN Centre.
“We’ve got all four of our lines going. Everybody is buying into their roles and playing good two-way hockey,” Cariboo head coach Trevor Sprague says. “We still need to be a little better in our end but that’ll really tell when we play the best player in the MML next weekend, on how good we’re going to actually be in our end and if our goalies are going to stop pucks.”
The Chiefs lineup features BCMML leading scorer Matthew Barzal, who has 97 points (29 goals and 68 assists) in 32 games this season. This weekend’s two-game set will include the league’s top two scorers, with the Cariboo roster featuring Liam Blackburn, who has 77 points (31 goals and 46 assists).
The Chiefs sport a 22-12-4 record. They sit fourth in the BCMML.
While the Cougars have performed well in 2013, they’ve benefited from an easier schedule. Four of the six teams they played over their last 12 games sport below .500 records.
The Royals sport an 11-20-7 mark and will finish seventh in the division. That means they’ll be back in Prince George on March 8 to start the playoffs against the Cougars. The BCMML best-of-three quarterfinals will run the March 8 to 10 weekend.
The Cougars won all four games against South Island during the regular season, outscoring the Royals 29-3 in the meetings.
“The four games that we’ve played against them this year I thought were kind of garbage games,” Sprague says. “They wanted to sit in the penalty box more than be coached on how to actually play the game.”
While the Cougars will be clear favourites against the Royals, Sprague knows better than to take the playoffs lightly. Should they win, they’ll face a much stiffer challenge the following weekend.
“Guys just can’t be selfish. Playoffs aren’t about being selfish, playoffs are about being the best team that hits the ice,” Sprague says. “Do guys want to put toe-drag seminars on or do they want to play hard-nosed hockey and score goals? The team with the least amount of turnovers is the team that’s going to win games and have great goaltending and look after their end. Those are the teams that are going to win.”
The BCMML semifinals run March 15 to 17, with the league championship set from March 22 to 24.
In each of the last three league finals, the Cougars fell short against the Vancouver North West Giants. Once again, the Giants are favoured to win the title. They finished their 40-game regular season schedule on the weekend, topping the 11-team standings with a 34-2-4 record.