Prior to the Pandemic
While goal scoring was once again a challenge for the Cougars, they made things interesting in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference as they were seven points back of the Seattle Thunderbirds with six games left in the 2019-20 season.
They did get a nice bonus though in the Bantam Draft Lottery as they jumped up two spots to the second overall selection and used it to pick Saskatoon Contacts forward Riley Heidt.
While they had the second-youngest roster in the WHL this season, the Cougars were able to escape from the B.C. Division cellar for the first time since 2017 as their 9-10-2-1 mark put them in fourth place.
Although their goals per game average was only at 2.59, it was an increase over the previous two campaigns, where they averaged 2.32 and 2.23 goals per night. Another major improvement for the Cougars was the average amount of goals they gave up per contest, as their 2.81 mark was the lowest since a 2.79 average in the 2016-17 season.
- Ilijah Colina (Left the team prior to start of the season for personal reasons – 9-15-24 in 49 games for the Cougars in 2019-20)
- Connor Bowie (8-2-10 in 22 games)
- Brendan Boyle (0-1-1 in 12 games)
- Ethan Browne (4-6-10 in 17 games)
- Filip Koffer (1-3-4 in 13 games for HC Stadion Litomerice and HC Stadion Vrchlabi in the Czech Republic – 9-15-24 in 59 games for the Cougars in 2019-20)
- Jonny Hooker (6-5-11 in 18 games)
- Tyson Upper (5-6-11 in 22 games)
- Davin Griffin (0-1-1 in 15 games)
- Mitch Kohner (Loaned to the Spokane Chiefs – 0-0-0 in six games – 8-6-14 in 59 games for the Cougars in 2019-20)
- Zach Michaelis (Unsigned 4th round pick in 2017 – 5-8-13 in 29 games for the Minnesota Wilderness – Committed to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
- Craig Armstrong (7-6-13 in 21 games)
- Blake Eastman (1-3-4 in 22 games)
- Jonni Karkkainen (Signed 2020 Import Draft Pick – 1-3-4 in 17 games for the HIFK Under-20 team)
- Ty Mueller (Unsigned 3rd round pick in 2018 – 8-3-11 in 15 games for the Sherwood Park Crusaders – Committed to the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks)
- Fischer O’Brien (1-4-5 in 22 games)
- Mike Svenson (0-0-0 in 14 games)
- Kyren Gronick (5-6-11 in 17 games)
- Carter MacAdams (1-2-3 in 14 games)
- Koehn Ziemmer (9-3-12 in 22 games)
- Caden Brown (1st round pick in 2020 – 35-30-65 in 30 games for the Delta Hockey Academy Under-15 Prep Green team in 2019-20)
- Riley Heidt (2-6-8 in 22 games)
- Ryker Singer (1st round pick in 2020 – 1-3-4 in four games for the Lloydminster Under-18 Bobcats – 30-21-51 in 32 games for the Lloydminster Under-15 Bobcats in 2019-20)
With Josh Maser and Vladislav Mikhalchuk both aging out of the WHL last year, the question once again for the Cougars coming into this season was where their goals were going to come from.
As it turned out, it was the younger talent that led the way. After only finding the back of the net once as a rookie, Craig Armstrong had seven goals this season, including a four-goal performance against the Vancouver Giants.
Koehn Ziemmer, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft, ended up being a finalist for rookie of the year, while Kyren Gronick kept up his level of play from the start of the season with the Regina Pat Canadians.
The veterans also did their part as Jonny Hooker, Tyson Upper, Connor Bowie and Ethan Browne all reached double digits in points, as they try and earn an overage slot next fall.
While his point totals weren’t what Connor Bedard and Brayden Yager had in Regina, Heidt’s rookie campaign was still a good one, as head coach and general manager Mark Lamb was quick to point out that the 16-year-old was often facing the top lines in the B.C. Division.
- Jack Sander (1-8-9 in 22 games)
- Majid Kaddoura (2-7-9 in 22 games)
- Brody Gagno (Unsigned 6th round pick in 2017 – 3-6-9 in 50 games for the Chilliwack Chiefs in 2019-20 – Committed to the Quinnipiac Bobcats)
- Aiden Reeves (0-0-0 in 17 games)
- Kent Anderson (Unsigned 6th round pick in 2018 – 2-4-6 in 10 games for the Drumheller Dragons – Committed to the Denver Pioneers)
- Aidan Hreschuk (Unsigned 5th round pick in 2018 – 3-14-17 in 23 games for the US NTDP – Committed to the Boston College Eagles)
- Ethan Samson (1-11-12 in 22 games)
- Hudson Thornton (1-2-3 in six games – 2-2-4 in 23 games for the Fargo Force)
- Jaren Brinson (0-2-2 in 20 games)
- Keaton Dowhaniuk (3-5-8 in 22 games)
- Bauer Dumanski (2nd round pick in 2020 – 16-17-33 in 30 games for the Humboldt Under-15 Broncos in 2019-20)
Like the offence, the Cougars also lost two of their key players on the blueline to graduation, as Ryan Schoettler aged out and Cole Moberg started his pro career in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs.
After putting up seven points in his rookie season, Ethan Samson enjoyed a breakout campaign as his 12 points in 22 contests put him in a tie for second in team scoring, in addition to being ranked by NHL Central Scouting for this year’s draft.
Veteran Majid Kadourra and overager Jack Sander just about joined Samson in the double-digit point club, while rookie Keaton Dowhaniuk showed why the Cougars picked him third overall two years ago.
Although he was limited to just a handful of games after coming over from the Fargo Force, Hudson Thornton should be a huge piece for the blueline going forward as the 17-year-old Winnipeg product was committed to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs before signing with Prince George in March.
- Taylor Gauthier (7-8-0 with a 2.74 GAA, a .915 save percentage and one shutout)
- Logan Terness (Unsigned 10th round pick in 2017 – 7-4-0 with a 2.37 GAA, a .933 save percentage and two shutouts for the Trail Smoke Eaters – Committed to the UConn Huskies for next season)
- Tyler Brennan (2-0-2 with a 2.16 GAA, a .933 save percentage and one shutout)
- Ty Young (0-2-1 with a 3.32 GAA, an .872 save percentage and zero shutouts)
The fact that Taylor Gauthier has yet to be drafted by a NHL club is beyond baffling. He’s been one of the best netminders in the WHL for the last couple of seasons and even earned a spot on Canada’s World Junior team this year, though he didn’t get to play in any games. Here’s hoping that the 20-year-old from Calgary will get a shot in the pros at some point.
Tyler Brennan, who’s not eligible for the NHL Draft until next year, would have played more for the Cougars this season, but he ended up traveling to Texas and served as the third string netminder for Canada’s gold-medal winning Under-18 side. His absence allowed Ty Young, who was an eighth round pick in 2019, to get his first taste of WHL action.
It’s been a long few years for the Cougars since their all-in push in 2017 ended in an opening round exit, but a return to the playoffs seems likely in 2021-22.
While they do have to figure out the overage situation on offence, the younger talents at forward and defence are moving the club in the right direction, in addition to potentially having one of the best goaltending tandems in the WHL with Gauthier and Brennan.
In addition to welcoming two more 2020 first round picks (forwards Caden Brown and Ryker Singer) into the lineup next season, the club also has a ton of draft assets going forward. They have all of their picks in the first five rounds of the next two drafts, including the 15th overall pick this December, plus Winnipeg’s third round pick in 2021 and Red Deer’s third round pick in 2022 that they acquired from the Ice for Jackson Leppard.
They probably won’t be on the level of the division favourite Kamloops Blazers for the upcoming campaign, but the Cougars look to be on the way to possibly becoming the team to beat in B.C. in a few years time.