Midget Cougars hope to ground Rockets
The Cariboo Cougars hope they’ll be preparing for the B.C. Major Midget League final after the weekend.
But they know that to reach the provincial championship hockey series, they’ll need to defeat a better team than the squad they faced on the weekend.
Whatever accomplishment they’re aiming for, the visitors this weekend have a similar feat in mind. The Okanagan Rockets also have championship aspirations.
The Cougars are coming off a two-game sweep over the South Island Royals at the Coliseum, victories of 4-3 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday. As the higher seeded team, they’ll play in Prince George again this weekend. But they won’t be at the Coliseum.
The Cariboo and Okanagan squads are scheduled to meet in the best-of-three BCMML semifinals starting today at CN Centre. They’ll hit the ice for Game 1 at 5 p.m. Game 2 is slated for Saturday at 1 p.m. A third game, if necessary, will unfold on Sunday at 10:15 a.m.
Cariboo head coach Trevor Sprague says their backchecking wasn’t at its best against the Royals. The Rockets carry more firepower, and the Cougars will try to perform better in their own end against one of the league’s top offensive clubs.
Looking at records, you’d be hard-pressed not to call the Cougars favourites in this series.
The Cougars finished second in the 11-team regular-season standings with 31 wins, eight losses and one tie (31-8-1). They finished five points ahead of the third-place Rockets (26-8-6).
The Cougars were 3-1 against the Rockets, and outscored them 22-12 in the four meetings. Their latest game, an 8-4 victory on Feb. 3, gave the Cougars a doubleheader sweep at CN Centre.
Sprague isn’t planning on taking the Rockets lightly.
“They’re a high-octane team,” he says. “We got the same goals against, pretty close on the goals for, so you’re going to see a lot of goals and I think you’re going to see a lot of mistakes too because of two teams that pursue the puck as much as both of our teams do.”
The Rockets needed a third game to eliminate the Valley West Hawks in the opening round. They outscored the Hawks 8-3 in the deciding game on Sunday.
Cariboo goalie Nathan Warren was a back-up during last year’s playoffs and has enjoyed the starting role this year. He learned more about playoff hockey in 2012.
“You kind of see how playoff hockey is and it helps for sure and you just got to be a positive guy in the dressing room, just cheer your team on and get everyone going, so that’s what I tried to do last year,” Warren says. “Now this year it’s more serious for me and I got to be on my game all of the time. These series could go either way so I got to be at my best.”
The team’s defence will also need to play at a high level.
“Offence will always look after itself if your paycheque has been made in the D zone,” Sprague says.
This weekend’s other semifinal has the defending league champions and top-ranked team, the Vancouver North West Giants (34-2-4), hosting the fifth-seeded Greater Vancouver Canadians (22-15-3) at the Burnaby Winter Club. The winners will meet in the BCMML best-of-three championship series from March 22 to 24.