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Engel enjoying fresh start with Cougars


A change is better than a rest, so when Mac Engel learned he was no longer in the Spokane Chiefs’ plans, he was only too willing to move to another team in order to stay in the Western Hockey League.

“There just wasn’t a spot for me in Spokane. They had the goalie they wanted there in (Eric) Williams and a young guy coming up, so I was the odd guy out,” Engel said Wednesday morning at the Centrium, while preparing to stop pucks for the Prince George Cougars in an evening game versus the host Red Deer Rebels.

“I got a fresh new start in Prince George. It’s a great organization with great people running it and the guys in the room are unbelievable. I love playing with the Cougars. It’s going well for me this season.”

A Red Deer product who was the starting netminder for the midget AAA Optimist Rebels during the 2009-10 campaign, Engel was listed by the Chiefs and made the WHL squad the following season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average as a back-up in his rookie season and last winter had a 2.69 GAA as Spokane’s starter.

Yet the Chiefs deemed him expendable last fall and told him to go home and wait for a trade. The Cougars came calling in mid-October and Engel was off to Prince George in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 bantam draft.

Engel, who stopped 31 shots in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Rebels, sees himself as not only the Cougars’ regular starter, but a mentor to 17-year-old teammate Brent Zarowny.

“He’s going to be a good netminder for this team, he has a bright future,” Engel said of Zarowny. “He’s very good goaltender, and with him working with me and us working together and pushing each other . . . it’s made us a lot better as individuals and has also helped the team.”

Engel, as his numbers would indicate — disregarding his current 3.31 GAA with a struggling team — has progressed through each of his three WHL seasons.

“I’ve improved in different areas. I worked with (goalie coach and Red Deer native) Dennis Sproxton for a couple of years in Spokane and he helped me a lot,” said the 19-year-old. “I give him a lot of credit. We worked on quicker movements, getting my feet moving and tracking the puck. We also spent time on making sure I was always ready to play . . . always focused and not letting things bother me.

“That’s always my goal now, to zone out all the distractions and focus on winning the game at hand.”

The Cougars are also zoning in on securing the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Heading into tonight’s meeting with the host Medicine Hat Tigers, Prince George sits two points back of the eighth-place Seattle Thunderbirds and five points in arrears of the Everett Silvertips, who occupy seventh spot.

“That’s the focus of our team right now,” said Engel. “This is a huge road trip for us and we’re trying to get every point we can down the stretch. We’re trying to catch Seattle and get that last playoff spot or even move up higher into seventh. Making the playoff is every team’s goal and it’s right there within our grasp. We’re going to do everything in our power the rest of the season to get that spot.”

Engel, who was named third star of the game when Prince George downed the Rebels 3-1 Jan. 19 at the Centrium, could return to the Cougars next season as a 20-year-old if team management decides he’s worthy of filling one of the three allotted overage berths.

Another option would be to turn pro, providing he gets a free-agent offer. He insisted he’d be open to either avenue.

“Of course I want to move on and get to that next level, but coming back to Prince George for another year of development would be big for me as well,” said Engel.

“The team has really helped me out a lot, especially the new (head) coach. Mark Holick works us hard and every day he demands the best from everybody. A full year of playing under him wouldn’t hurt me at all.”

In the event that Engel doesn’t get a pro opportunity or said opportunity doesn’t pan out, he’ll have his WHL education scholarship funds to fall back on. In that case, would he at some point consider returning to Red Deer and playing for the RDC Kings, who will be back in the ACAC men’s league next fall?

“That could always be an option, staying in my hometown for a bit,” he said. “But I might be looking to get out there and find something new. That would probably be a bigger goal for me, to play somewhere else, get away from home and pursue my career with no distractions.

“The main goal is to move on in hockey and I’m just working as hard as I can right now with my team to get that playoff spot and go as far as we can.”

 
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