The Prince George Cougars are staying put.
The team won’t be adopted by another city any time soon after the Cougars this week agreed to sign a lease to continue to prowl the 5,995-seat CN Centre through 2018.
With the Cougars averaging just over 2,000 fans per outing this season, rumours were swirling that the club would be re-located to any number of locations in the near future. The scuttlebutt was stamped out Wednesday.
“This is a very proud day for the Cougars and we’re excited to continue to provide residents of Prince George and the surrounding area with world-class junior hockey,” said Cougars vice-president Brandi Brodsky.
“This wasn’t to quell rumours, we did it for the organization and for the city, and to let everybody know that we are stable here,” Brodsky told Ted Clarke of the Prince George Citizen. “That’s always been our plan, to be here long term, and we’ve always made agreements that reflected that, and this is a step in that same direction.”
The length of the lease is the longest in the history of the Western Hockey League team, dating back to its arrival in the city in 1994.
The Cougars previously operated on three-year leases, with options for two-year extensions.
The City of Prince George will receive as much as 30 per cent of the team’s ticket revenue depending on attendance, and will also get a cut of the proceeds from advertising and suite rental.
“Maybe people will realize we’re here to stay,” said Brodsky.
“Win or lose, you get to see some great hockey here and some great moments of brilliance out there from some of these young players and we want everybody to come and be a part of that.”
l Kurtis Mucha stepped into the WHL record book Wednesday, stopping 35 shots in a 5-2 loss to the Portland Winter Hawks while running his record-setting playing time to 12,775 minutes, one more than Kyle Moir racked up while guarding the Swift Current Broncos cage from 2002 to ‘07.
Mucha, 20, was with the Winter Hawks for the vast majority of his WHL career before being acquired by the Blazers in November. Winterhawks fans have never forgotten the Sherwood Park native and many on hand for Wednesday’s contest sported Mucha jerseys and assorted signs.
“It was pretty special,” Mucha told Gregg Drinnan of the Kamloops Daily News. “I was here for a while, it feels like I left a mark here, even though we never won much. It was special to see even though I’m not here anymore.”
Mucha has appeared in 228 games, five short of Moir’s league record, and is also second in career saves. His 6,448 stops trails only the 6,958 made by Danny Lorenz (Seattle Thunderbirds, 1986-90).
“I was kind of playing it by ear tonight, just one minute at a time just because I was so nervous,” Mucha told Portland freelance writer Scott Sepich.
“It was weird doing everything the opposite of what I used to do here.”
Just notes: Prince George Cougars defenceman Art Bidlevskii displayed a true example of ‘sportsmanship’ Wednesday when he handed over the club captaincy to 20-year-old homegrown rearguard Garrett Thiessen. “Seeing how Garrett only has 20 games left in his career and the passion he shows for this team and the organization, it’s important to me and the younger guys on the team to really look up to that and hopefully get a piece of him,” Bidlevskii told the Prince George Citizen. “I think we’ll remember him for a long time to come and the heart he brought to the rink every day. I’ve always looked up to Garrett and hopefully next year I’ll be a better captain because of him.” Thiessen appreciated the gift. “I’ve always wanted to be a captain in this league, especially of the Prince George Cougars — this is a dream come true,” he told the Citizen. “Art was put into a tough position at 18 years old when we’re not winning many hockey games or performing as well as we should be and I want to support him with that, and support everyone else on the team and hopefully turn this thing around and get it back on winning ways.” . . . The Prince Albert Raiders knocked off the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings 4-1 Wednesday but also watched their netminder, Garrett Zemlak, receive a knockout blow from Shayne Wiebe. The Wheaties forward was involved in a goalmouth collision with Zemlak, who was carried off the ice on a stretcher. Raiders GM/head coach Bruno Campese wasn’t impressed with Wiebe’s actions after Zemlak had lost his footing when Brandon’s Michael Ferland slid into him. “The first guy just kind of slipped and slid into (Zemlak),” Campese told John MacNeil of the Prince Albert Herald. “But the second guy, Wiebe, earmarked the goalie and he went right after him. He made absolutely zero intention of stopping. He had every intention of running right through him, and that’s what he did.” Wheat Kings GM/coach Kelly McCrimmon wouldn’t offer an opinion of the incident, which resulted in a major penalty to Wiebe. “That’s not my place to comment on the call by the official,” said McCrimmon. “He made his call, and both teams live with it, and we go from there. Hopefully, (Zemlak’s) injury is not serious. He’s a big part of their hockey club.” . . . The Vancouver Giants received a rather large boost with Wednesday’s news that six-foot-three forwards James Wright is being returned to the club by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Wright, who was scheduled to fly home to Saskatoon today and will join the Giants next Wednesday in Vancouver, was naturally dejected by the NHL team’s decision to demote him. “As a hockey player, you try to stay as even-keeled as you can,” he told Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province. “You try to flat line on the emotional scale, but I took a dip there. I’m disappointed to be sent home. Any hockey player is disappointed when he doesn’t make the team. But I’m going to try to keep a good head on my shoulders and play hard. I think the Giants are going to expect a lot out of me and I expect a lot out of myself.” The 19-year-old was selected by the Lightning in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL draft. He scored 21 goals and collected 47 points in 71 games with the Giants last season and had five points (2-3) in 48 games with Tampa Bay . . . Giants head coach Don Hay sat out his team’s 3-2 loss at Everett Wednesday after receiving a one-game suspension from the league for the Giants’ part in a line brawl last weekend at Prince George.