As the first-year head coach of the struggling Prince George Cougars, Dean Clark knows he has to be an uplifting voice of reason.
Clark realizes he has to maintain an air of optimism during down times, and the Cougars have been headed downward the past two weeks. The club owns a 2-7-0-0 mark, has lost five straight while being outscored 32-7, and occupies last place in the B.C. Division.
The former Calgary Hitmen/ Kamloops Blazers/Brandon Wheat Kings bench boss is keeping his cool, confident that better times are just around the corner with the pending return from injury of four key players — overage defencemen Dallas Jackson and Garrett Thiessen, and first-line forwards Brett Connolly and Marek Viedensky.
“Unfortunately right now it’s a combination of things,” Clark told the Prince George Citizen. “Am I discouraged? Not at all. I think we have to work to get better. The way our schedule is right now, I’m glad we have it because we can practise a little bit, with not many games. That will give us some time to get some guys back that are hurt. Being young and not having some veterans in the lineup, that adds up to some long nights.”
The Cougars have 10 rookies on their roster and seven of them have seen extensive duty. Now is the time for the club’s healthy veterans to step up, general manager Dallas Thompson told the Citizen.
“Certainly we expect more from the older guys that are in the lineup — guys that have played and proven that they can play and put up some numbers,” Thompson said. “I thought we got let down by those guys a little bit again (during 6-1 and 7-1 road losses at Kamloops and Kelowna last weekend). Step one is to get those guys going and step two is to get our guys back in the lineup.”
Thompson said he wouldn’t be opposed to swinging a deal or two to hopefully improve the team, but that he’d prefer to stick with the current group.
“We’ve done that before where we’ve brought in guys that we didn’t know. And if somebody’s moving somebody, they’re moving him for a reason and it’s not a good one. So that certainly isn’t going to be our No. 1 choice on fixing things here. We think we’ve got some good guys here that need to get going.”
The Cougars grabbed overage forward Del Cowan off waivers from the Brandon Wheat Kings on Thursday, leaving the team with five overage players past Thursday’s deadline for teams to declare their three 20-year-olds for the remainder of the season.
With Jackson and Thiessen on the injury list, the team will get some extra time to decide who, besides Cowan, will be kept. The other overage players on the roster are forwards Alex Rodgers and Tyler Halliday, a former Red Deer Rebel.
• Kelowna Daily Courier hockey writer Doyle Potenteau notes that WHL attendance continues to fall in certain markets, a concern that was a probable agenda-topper during a general managers/governors league meeting earlier this week in Kelowna.
The Chilliwack Bruins, in tough with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat just 20 minutes away, the BCHL’s Langley Chiefs 30 minutes down the road and the ongoing presence of the Vancouver Canucks, saw their average attendance drop 451 fans per game last season to 4,072.
This season, the Bruins have drawn an average of 3,146 fans through five games, which is down a whopping 1,400 since the team’s inaugural season of 2006-07.
The Seattle Thunderbirds are also suffering after vacating the downtown KeyArena for the new ShoWare Center in Kent. Through five games this fall, the T-Birds are drawing an average of 2,958 fans per outing, whereas they pulled in a per-game crowd of 3,889 last season.
“There’s a lot of things in play,” Bruins governor Darryl Porter told Potenteau. “If you look around every level of hockey, and most minor sports, everyone’s running 10 to 20 per cent down. It’s certainly something that’s happening in our league, but I think everyone knows there’s multiple facets to that.
“We’re down considerably, but, at the end of the day, you have to look at everything, and it seems everything’s happening at once. There’s the new AHL team down the road that’s launching, the Olympics are coming in February, and that’s on the minds of everybody in B.C., we have the Canucks at one of their high points, and there are seven junior (A and B) teams in the area. Those are all challenges, for sure, but I view this as the most challenging time there will ever be, and it’ll only get better from here.”
On a positive note, the Kelowna Rockets have sold out each of their five home games this season and the Edmonton Oil Kings, with an average attendance of 5,050 through four outings, are close to last year’s early-season average gathering of 5,176.
On the move: The Saskatoon Blades took care of their overage situation on Tuesday by sending forward Milan Kytnar to the Vancouver Giants in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2010 bantam draft. Blades captain Derek Hulak told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix that the Slovakian centre will be missed. “He was a hard-working player, he was unbelievable defensively, had great offensive skill and he was a good person to be around. He was unbelievable in the locker-room and unbelievable on the ice,” said Hulak . . . The Brandon Wheat Kings added an experienced netminder on Thursday, acquiring 19-year-old Jacob De Serres from the Seattle Thunderbirds in exchange for 17-year old forward Brendan Rouse. De Serres, a Calgary native, is in his fourth WHL season and was selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round of the 2008 NHL entry draft. Rouse had two assists in six games with the Wheat Kings this season . . . The Kelowna Rockets snared goaltender Chad Ketting in a deal with the Swift Current Broncos last weekend. Ketting, 18, is one of four netminders on the Rockets roster, although 20-year-old Mark Guggenberger is scheduled to undergo surgery for a sports hernia and will be out of action for six weeks. The Broncos got a conditional 2011 seventh-round bantam draft pick for Ketting.