The newest member of the Prince George Cougars absolutely agrees that he needed a change of address.
When Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin called Daulton Siwak into his office Dec. 29, his message revolved around the fact that the third-year forward wasn’t living up to expectations as a Rebel and that a trade was in the best interests of both parties.
Just hours later, Siwak was en route to B.C. after being dealt to the Cougars, who also received a third-round pick in this year’s bantam draft while sending 19-year-old centre Charles Inglis to Red Deer.
“I got the call early in the morning to come to the rink and talked to Wallin for about 20 minutes and he told me I’d been traded,” said Siwak, an Olds native who practised with his new team Thursday at the Centrium and will be in the Cougars lineup for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. contest versus the Rebels.
“He told me it was time for me to get a change of scenery, to switch it up because it wasn’t working here. I absolutely agreed with that. Although it came as a bit of a shock, from there I just got more and more excited.”
Still, the 18-year-old admitted to being a little apprehensive about walking into a dressing room full of new faces.
“It was a little nerve-wracking going to a new place,” he said.
“But all hockey players are kind of in their own little group so, yeah, it’s been a pretty easy change for me. It’s turned out to be a good move and a positive experience.”
Siwak also feels that his game has taken a step forward.
In eight games with the Cougars, he has contributed two goals and one assist after potting five goals and accumulating seven points in 18 games with the Rebels this season.
“I’ve improved my game quite a bit since the move. I’ve been helping out offensively. Overall, it’s been a really good adjustment,” he said.
The Cougars opened their three-game Central Division trip with a 5-0 loss Wednesday at Edmonton, but are just a single point out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We have a really, really young team with eight 16-year-olds,” said Siwak. “Over the second half of the season we have to make a push for the playoffs and the younger guys will have to step up because they’re not necessarily rookies anymore with a half season under their belts.”
Due to the Cougars’ extreme youth, Siwak has taken on a leadership role as a third-year WHL player.
“It’s kind of weird being one of the older guys, but it’s also good,” he said.
Cougars head coach Dean Clark likes what Siwak has brought to his club.
“First off, he’s a right-handed forward which we don’t have a lot of,” said Clark. “He has some skill and some sense around the net. He’s playing with two of our most skilled guys (Alex Forsberg and Troy Bourke) and they seem to have some chemistry, so it’s been a good fit for him.”
Another plus for the Cougars is that Siwak likely has some untapped potential. Over the next year or two, he should be an even better player than he is now.
“He’s still young and when you’re dealt sometimes it can be a hard transition for these kids,” said Clark. “But certainly he’s a great kid. He’s happy to be with us and he’s getting lots of opportunity which is what every player wants.”
Clark is confident that the Cougars can qualify for the playoffs despite their extensive youth.
“We’re a younger group, we have a young set of forwards who sometimes don’t create enough offence. We’ve been shut out something like eight times this season,” he said. “But it’s coming. It’s funny . . . . most years when you send kids to the (World Under 17 Challenge) you’re thankful that they’re get ice time and gaining confidence. Well, we missed our guys last month because we depend on them so much.
“But we’ve been playing better lately and we feel that with Drew Owsley in goal we have a chance to win every night. That’s kind of where we are.”
Siwak remains friendly with his former teammates and admitted that it will be a strange experience being on the visitors’ bench Saturday night.
“It’s kind of weird being here right now, but I’m looking forward to the game,” he said.