By Andrew Mitchell
After months of preparation in Squamish, and years of work behind the scenes, the World Hockey Association’s Junior West Hockey League is officially on the ice.
For the Squamish Cougars, one of seven teams in the new league, the home opener took place on Friday, Sept. 22 against the Armstrong Crusaders, with a packed house at Brennan Park Arena taking in all the action. More than 200 people were in line an hour before the faceoff, and officially the game was sold out.
There have been open tryouts for positions throughout the summer to complement the scouting and recruiting of the league, and local Sea to Sky players were encouraged to give it their best shot.
With an upper age limit of 20 and no lower limit, the 2006-07 Cougars so far range from local high school students just out of midget to former professional junior players from California and Florida.
But while the fans have been onside since the beginning, not everything went smoothly for the home opener. The Crusaders were expected to arrive for 3 p.m. but didn’t show up in Squamish until 7:15 p.m., about 15 minutes before the game was scheduled to start.
After quickly changing into their gear and a short 10-minute warm-up the puck dropped about 10 minutes late.
According to Jess LaFramboise, the volunteer announcer for the Cougars, the crowd was into the action right away.
“The mayor (Ian Sutherland) did the ceremonial puck drop, and everyone was on their feet for the first minute of the game. The players were pretty fired up, too, and there was even a fight about 51 seconds in. Jeremy Ennis, who is a Squamish kid, dropped the gloves and the crowd went crazy.”
Squamish scored the first goal of the game, which the crowd loved, but they were eventually beaten down by Armstrong in the last period. The noise made it hard for players and referees to hear the whistle, creating some confusion when a Cougars goal was called back. Even the scorekeeper had a hard time keeping track of goals and penalties because he couldn’t hear the referee over the crowd.
The Cougars were outshot 51 to 33 by the end of the game, although the score could have been even more lopsided without the efforts of starting goalie Graham Hallenback.
The Squamish roster is still being filled out, but had eight Sea to Sky athletes. From Squamish, the list includes Ennis, Nick Johnston, Kyle Marquette, Cole Nelson, Ross Pattison, Alex Wilkes, and Kyle Ritchie — who is also a well known mountain biker, despite the fact he stands six-foot-five and weighs 240 pounds.