By Andrew Mitchell
Although officially 0-3-0 in the standings after two games last weekend against the Armstrong Sharks and New Westminster Whalers, the Squamish Cougars are hoping to be on top at the end of the regular season and win the first year of the new World Hockey Association’s Junior West Hockey League.
In their first game on Sept. 22 the Cougars were outshot 51 to 33, and lost 6-3. In the rematch this past Friday, Sept. 29, the Cougars were in the game until the very end, eventually losing 3-2. They played the Whalers on Sunday, losing 6-1.
For a team that has only been together for a matter of weeks, and where ages range from 16 to 20 and the previous years’ experience ranges from Junior B to Midget House, it was a start.
There are two Whistler players on the Cougars this year, as well as six players from the Squamish area and one from Lillooet. The rest of the roster is mainly from the Lower Mainland, but there are two Americans in the lineup, one from Florida and one from California.
Whistler’s Troy McLean said he first heard about the league reading Pique Newsmagazine and decided to go to an open tryout for the new league. He wanted to play closer to home this year after being away the past two winters with Junior B teams in Edmonton and on Vancouver Island.
Because of his skills, age and experience, McLean was handed the team captaincy. He says the level of play in the league is equal to Junior B, and will only get faster and better as the season progresses and teams have a few more games under their belts.
“It’s pretty high intensity, like any other junior league,” said McLean. “And it’s more open as well, like the new NHL. It’s a little more run and gun, and there’s a lot of scoring — a real emphasis on offence. The refs are letting us play as well, which is always good.”
McLean played with three of the Squamish skaters in the past when the Whistler Minor Hockey Association and Squamish association joined forces to field a Midget Rep team. While it’s been a while, and there are a lot of new faces, McLean says the team chemistry is starting to come together.
“I know (the three Squamish players) pretty well, which makes things easier, but it’s really a good group of guys that were chosen,” he said.
The team has four on-ice practices each week, and a day of dryland training, which McLean says is actually more intense than other junior programs. He says there is a good work ethic in practice, and a desire to win.