The goal this season for Prince George Cougars 2001-born forward Tyson Upper is simple.
Get the puck on net.
After scoring just five goals on an average of 1.73 shots-per-game during his 17-year-old WHL campaign, Upper is trying to shoot whenever he is given the chance.
“I’ve been talking to Mark (Lamb), our head coach and GM, a lot. And he’s been wanting me to shoot the puck a lot more. I didn’t do that a lot last season or through preseason. So we focused on, in practices, shooting the puck a lot more and just creating chances,” Upper said.
Upper had two goals against the Vancouver Giants in his first game of the season on six shots and had four shots the next night as well.
“If you get the puck to the net, you’ll create chances for you and your teammates. So I kept putting pucks on the net and, luckily, two went in for me that game.”
The Calgary, Alberta, native had just four shots over four preseason games earlier this month. The turnaround in his style of play is impressive.
“Well, he did really work hard in the offseason. He’s in phenomenal shape. He was one of the top conditioned guys in camp. He brings a lot of speed. He brings a lot of tenacity. And yeah, we were on him for not shooting. He’d be the first to agree. He’s a very unselfish player and tries to pass the puck,” Lamb said of Upper.
Upper is not alone on the team, though, when it comes to playing unselfish.
“I think our team is like that. He started shooting the puck and it starts going in. It’s amazing how that works. When you start to get results, you’ll do it a lot more.”
It’s simple to talk about, but a key reason Upper is finding more room is how much more comfortable he is in his second WHL season.
“I’m a lot more confident in the second season. I want to be a dominant player in this league. And to do that you need to get shots through. You gotta control the pace of the game. So if I can get in an area to shoot the puck, I’m going to take that shot every time I can,” Upper said.
As Lamb mentioned, the hard work that Upper put in during the offseason has him ready for the rough-and-tumble WHL.
“I find I’m a lot stronger this year. I worked all summer on my strength because that’s a big difference maker. If you can control the puck and control it down low, you’ll have a lot more success in this league. So I just worked on my strengths all summer. And I felt confident out there, and confidence is huge in this league. So if you don’t have confidence, you won’t play well.”
Upper played with Mitchell Kohner and Craig Armstrong and were an effective unit.
“Armstrong, I trained with him all summer. And he’s a great player, smart hockey player. And he’s very competitive, just like me. So it’s easy to play with him, and Kona (Kohner) is very fast, very competitive, great on the forecheck. So he creates a lot of space. And it’s easy to play with those two.”
Upper’s path to the Cougars is a different one. He was passed over in the WHL Bantam Draft, and Lamb stumbled across him while at a camp with his own son.
“I was at a conditioning camp with my son in Calgary, and he was at it. I was just watching and I really liked him. There’s a couple other players I really liked there, but that’s how it happened. I saw him and we listed him and brought him to camp. He had a really good camp and made our team, and he hasn’t looked back since,” Lamb said.
A key to Upper finding his way to the WHL is his father being in his corner.
“I’m so thankful for my dad, because he came up playing hockey and kind of taught himself how to play. So he gives me great advice. And ever since I was young, he’s been working with me, helps me when I went to the ODR (outdoor rink). He helped me with stuff, and after games, I call him and he keeps me level. But he also gives me that push to be better and try to be the best player on the ice and try to dominate and make my teammates better. He is the best dad that I could ask for.”
With his coach and his dad pushing him and his great start to the season, Cougars fans could be celebrating a lot of Upper goals this season.
-The Cougars were dealt a blow over the weekend as they are now without defenseman Cole Moberg. The Chicago Blackhawks-drafted defenseman is listed as out two-to-three weeks with an upper body injury.
“Well, he’s our leader back there. So you can’t replace him at all. We were using him in a couple different spots on the power play, which is really going to change. He took a hit and that’s part of hockey. There’s lots of injuries, and hopefully he’s back sooner rather than later,” Lamb said.
-Prince George also traded for 2002-born forward Davin Griffin. They sent a conditional WHL Bantam Draft pick to the Prince Albert Raiders for Griffin.
“I’ve never seen him before but our scouts really liked him, and he’s in the ’02 group and we’re leaning on the ’02 group. So it’s a really good opportunity for him to come in here and show what he can do. We have some scouts that have really liked them. And, you know, we’re looking forward to giving him an opportunity. ”
-Ilijah Colina continues to be out of the lineup as well, but the Cougars did get center Ethan Browne back from his injury for the weekend set against Vancouver.
“Well, he’s got a lot of skill and he’s really weighted towards the offensive side and for power plays and so forth. He really helps out that area. He’s been hurt the whole preseason. He hasn’t played at all, so he’s totally not up to speed yet. But, when he’s in the lineup, he’s effective and we need him.”
Looking back on the 5-3 and 4-1 losses at home to the Giants, Lamb thought there were a lot of positives to take out of his team’s play.
“Well, I thought we played pretty well. The only negative part was we didn’t get any points. I thought we could have at least got a point out of the two games that we played. But we did a lot of good things. I thought we played really well defensively and we didn’t give up. We didn’t give up a lot.”
-Now the Cougars play in Victoria tonight and tomorrow against the Royals. Upper thinks they can come out with some big B.C. Division points if they continue some of the good things they did last weekend.
“We got to play our game right from the get go. Because our second game against Vancouver, we actually played really well. 40 minutes of the game were good, but for the first 20, we weren’t great. So we have to come out with a bang and play a forechecking game, play with speed, and get the puck in and make the simple plays, and play our system, which when we play our system, we can compete with any team in this league.”