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2019-20 WHL Season Previews: Prince George Cougars

Prince George Cougars- 19-41-5-3 -Did not make playoffs 

The past couple seasons have not been bright spots for a Prince George franchise that hasn’t seen a single playoff game in that span. Last season was not expected to be a banner winning season, but hopes remained high for a potential wild card playoff berth. The team remained in the mix until early January during a season with a much weaker B.C. Division than normal. Eventually though, a number of unfortunate injuries left the team cupboards bare and also led to the firing of bench boss Richard Matvichuk.

A new era behind the bench:

In the heat of summer, despite what was referred to as a lengthy search, Mark Lamb was named the head coach to go along with his duty of being the team’s general manager, the first time those roles had been combined in franchise history. The Cougars later announced Jason Smith would be joining the team as an associate coach. Smith was previously with the Kelowna Rockets as the team’s head coach before being fired on October 22, 2018.

This new look Cougars bench features an extensive amount of NHL experience with plenty of high regard from the hockey world. That was exemplified when Lamb told media he had turned down a position with the Edmonton Oilers in early July.

Despite being a very young lineup last season, the Cougars could still be considered one of the youngest in the league again in 2019-20. There is no relief in sight either as the team boasts a lineup full of 2000- and 2001-born players that will be heavily implicated by the overage rules as soon as next season.

Lineup losses:

  • Josh Curtis – 1998 – Committed to Queen’s
  • Mike MacLean – 1998 – Committed to Concordia
  • Joel Lakusta – 1998 – Committed to University of Alberta
  • Tyson Phare – 2002 – Traded to Lethbridge Hurricanes
  • Vladislav Mikhalchuk – 1999 – Signed by Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL, Russia)

Lineup Additions:

  • Craig Armstrong (F) – 2003 – Signed from Edge School (CSSHL), Drafted round 1, 9th overall (2018 Bantam Draft)

    Craig Armstrong comes in with a smaller frame but uses it to his advantage to make a difference with his speed. Look for his offensive rush speed this season. (Photo: James Doyle)
  • Fillip Koffer (F) – 2001 – Signed from HC Dynamo Pardubice U20 (Czech Republic), Drafted round 1, 10th overall (2019 Import Draft)
  • Blake Eastman (F) – 2003 – Signed from OHA Edmonton E15 (CSSHL), Drafted round 2, 44th overall (2018 Bantam Draft)
  • Ethan Samson (D) – 2003 – Signed from Delta Academy E15 (CSSHL) Drafted round 3, 65th overall (2018 Bantam Draft)
  • Joe Kennedy (D) – 2001 – Acquired via CHL conditional waivers
  • Ethan McColm (D) – 2002 – Acquired via trade from Regina Pats
  • Tyler Brennan (G) – 2003 – Signed from Rink Academy (CSSHL), Drafted round 1, 21st overall (2018 Bantam Draft)

The return of Colina

One of the biggest storylines to watch coming into this Cougars season will be Ilijah Colina (Photo: James Doyle)

One of the biggest storylines for a Cougars team that lacked some offensive punch was when it was announced that Ilijah Colina would be leaving the team.

It wasn’t until June that the public found out that the 2000-born was taking time off to better his mental health — something that Colina came forward with publicly in an emotional article you can read here.

“All along I was motivated by the wrong thing. I was trying to prove a point to myself, that I was stronger than my mind and could fight back,” Colina explained in the self-written article.

When Colina came to Cougars training camp in August, most of his fellow teammates were blown away by his comeback. Throughout camp, he shattered expectations, seemingly coming back from his time off better than ever and, most importantly, feeling better.

In a preseason game against the Vancouver Giants on Saturday, September 7th, Colina left the game clutching his shoulder. In that game, before being injured, Colina had a multi-goal performance and was hands down the team’s most exciting player to watch.

Last season, Colina had 12 points through 39 games with Prince George, and started on the NHL Central Scouting radar.

A chip in the crease

Taylor Gauthier eyes up an incoming puck. Feb 18, 2019 (Photo: James Doyle)

Throughout his 17-year-old season, Cougars starting goaltender Taylor Gauthier was constantly ranked by the NHL Central Scouting. Despite being injured in February, the goaltender remained on the list of top 10 North American goalies available for selection.

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft came and went without his name being called, leading to an emotional instagram post about coming back in the fall with what he called “something to prove.”

The now 18-year-old comes into this season with a chip on his shoulder and more motivation than he’s ever felt before. Coming off a 55 game season in 2018-19, the Calgary-native is set to return from Boston Bruins prospect camp with hopes of big things to come.

New imported goods

Phillip Koffer was a 10th overall selection in the 2019 CHL Import Draft (Photo: HC Dynamo Photography)

When fans heard the news following the end of the Cougars season that one of their top scorers, Vladislav Mikhalchuk, would not be returning to the team in the coming season, most were left with their hopes crushed. That was before they’d seen what was coming in to replace the Belarusian.

At the 2019 CHL Import Draft, the Cougars selected Filip Koffer from the Czech Republic with the 10th overall pick. From just a short taste tester in training camp with some pre-season action, it’s obvious that Koffer has the skill set to be a dominant force at the WHL level.

He isn’t a big body, but he makes up for his size with his physical playing style as he often compares himself to a Brad Marchand type of player.

Koffer picked up six points through five games at the U-18 Worlds last season, also adding 38 points in 34 games in the Czech U-19 league with his team HC Dynamo Pardubice.

Look for this imported good to make all the difference scoring-wise for the Cougars this season.

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