The Squamish Cougars split their first two games of the season against the Fort Vancouver Pioneers of Vancouver, Washington, taking the first game at home 6-3 then losing in Lillooet by a score of 6-2.
The Cougars will head down to New Westminster to play the Whalers on Thursday, then come back to Squamish to host the Pioneers once again. After that they will be playing at home on Oct. 10 as the Lumby Fighting Saints pay them a visit.
Cougars coach Matt Samson is happy with his team’s opening weekend.
“We played a pretty good game at home on Friday, and had a decent crowd out — a lot of people didn’t know about it, but we’re hoping to get a few more fans this week,” he said.
“(The Pioneers) only lost five games all of last year, they’re a good organization with good coaching staff and top to bottom they’re first class. Their first line includes two players who have a whole season playing Junior A, and one player who spent a season in the WHL. They are the best line in the league right now, and will be all season.”
Samson said the Cougars scrambled a lot early in the game, but managed timely goals even as they were outshot by the Pioneers.
The Cougars kept things close early in the game on Saturday, and were tied 2-2 heading into the third period thanks to the efforts of goalie Graham Hallenback. The Cougars had a breakdown early in the third period, letting the Pioneers score two unanswered goals in short order. The Cougars were on their heels for the rest of the game, allowing two more goals.
While he would have liked to win both games, Samson said it was a good start for the Cougars considering the reputation of the Pioneers.
On the negative side, an injury took out a forward on Samson’s third line on Friday. Josh Schraubeck of Pemberton skated with the team on Saturday night to fill in, but has not committed to joining the team for the rest of the season.
Whistler’s contributions to the team had a mixed opening weekend. Troy McLean, the top scorer in the World Hockey Association’s Junior West Hockey League last season, came into the weekend battling an illness. He managed two assists on Friday, including one that set up a powerplay goal by Squamish’s Kyle Ritchie. His illness got worse on Saturday, and he continued to miss practices this week.
Aaron Oberson, who joined the Cougars after playing midget last season, had a promising start.
“I think he really stepped up, he’s good at adjusting to speed, he takes the body well, he plays a positional game. These were his first games at this level, and overall I was impressed with him.”
The Western Junior Hockey League has eight teams in its second season, with the addition of the Oliver Jets, Fort Vancouver Pioneers and the Barrhead River Kings of Alberta. The Bellingham Bulls folded after their first season.
The league has a new website at www.officialwha.com.