The WHL a Pool of Prospects
By Clark Grieve, Contributor
The Prince George Cougars, for those in attendance, faced a tough challenge at home on 12 November, against the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers. Ultimately, the club kept it close through two periods, but ended up falling apart by the end of a lopsided third period, enduring a disappointing and somewhat humiliating 6-1 loss in front of the Prince George faithful.
Although the game was a tough setback for the Cougars, it did give Northern BC hockey fans a chance to see a future NHL star come through the area for the only time this season. The Medicine Hat Tigers forward, Hunter Shinkaruk, was a big factor in the victory for the Tigers, as he spearheaded an offensive powerhouse simply beyond what the Cougars defense could handle. While Shinkaruk has heated up the Western Hockey League (WHL) with over one hundred career goals in three seasons, the Vancouver Canucks recognized Shinkaruk’s potential early this year, selecting him as 24th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Shinkaruk has the opportunity to be invited to the Canucks training camp and pre-season, where he is expected to make a significant contribution to the Canucks roster sooner rather than later.
Shinkaruk is one of many talented players coming out of the WHL, and, being in the WHL, has had the opportunity to play throughout BC. Although Shinkaruk hails from Calgary and has spent his entire WHL career in Alberta, the Tigers’ recent road trip has given him an opportunity to play in the province he will likely suit up for some time in 2014.
Last season also saw defenseman and fourth overall selection from the 2013 Entry Draft, Seth Jones, excel in the league on his way to the Memorial Cup final. There are several other current players worth keeping an eye on who will pass through Prince George soon, including Vancouver Giants’ defensemen and 2012 draftees Brett Kulak (drafted in the fourth round by the neighbouring Calgary Flames), and Dalton Thrower (drafted in the second round by the Montreal Canadiens). The Giants will be in Prince George for a home-and-home against the Cougars on 29 and 30 November. Further down the schedule, the Cougars will get the chance to see Ottawa Senators first round draft pick from 2013, Curtis Lazar, facing off in mid-January. Although the Cougars did not have the start they were hoping for this year, having a chance to see prospects that will be playing in different places throughout the NHL is a great incentive to watch some games.
Finally, expect to see a lot of WHL players playing for Canada in the 2014 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, from 26 December 2013 to 5 January in Malmo, Sweden. The eastern location means some very early morning hockey games for Canadian fans, but hopes are high that our country’s best under-20 hockey players will be able to bring home the gold for the first time since 2009. All in all, there is a lot of amateur hockey to be seen over the next few months, both on TV and in person, for Northern BC hockey fans to watch. With the World Junior hockey Championships starting off a winter of great national hockey, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will be just around the corner, and your opportunity to see talent at the before it hits the big time is right close to home.