The team is called the Cariboo Cougars, but they have only ever played in the northernmost point of the Cariboo region. Prince George is home base for the program that brings together the best U15 through U18 players from Cache Creek to the Arctic Ocean. The program is arranged into the development-level Bobcats, the all-female Northern Capitals, and the cream of the crop Cariboo Cougars. There are players on the U18 Cougars from Prince George, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Taylor, Charlie Lake, Yellowknife, Kitimat, Smithers, Vanderhoof, two from Williams Lake and three from Quesnel: Isaiah Bagri, Carter Hesselgrave and Marik Mamic.
For the first time in more than a decade, local players in the AAA Cougars uniform will get a chance to play on Cariboo ice in their own hometown. On Friday night, Feb. 10, the puck will drop at West Fraser Centre between the home Cougars and the visiting North Island Silvertips of the BC Elite Hockey League.
“I think the last time there was a game there was ‘04, the first year that Major Midget was around,” said program manager Trevor Sprague. “Over the years we’ve played in McBride, when we couldn’t get ice in PG, so we’d go to a closer community. The Capitals have played in Vanderhoof and in Nak’azdli at the Ernie Same Memorial Arena, there. The Cougars have played there, too, and the Ernie Sam and the Fort Forum (the main rink in Fort St. James, interwoven into the Nak’azdli First Nation). That’s where all of this started.”
The three families and friends of the Quesnel players are likely the happiest with this development.
”I’ve never heard of a Cariboo Cougars game in Quesnel,” said Joe Mamic, father of Marik. “For three hometown kids, this is a great opportunity to play in front of family and friends and a great way for the community to cheer on the team, after all the Quesnel kids they have worked with over the years. This is big, and I’m glad the City and minor hockey were able to figure out the details to make this happen.”
The reason it’s happening at all is a scheduling glitch in the BCEHL flow of teams coming north for their league games.
“We’re playing the North Island Silvertips four times that weekend, since they couldn’t make it up before Christmas,” said Sprague. “We have to stay at the Sandman Hotel wherever we go (due to league sponsorship arrangements) so Quesnel has one of those right on the highway, there, and we have our guys from Quesnel, so why not do a game there to break it up a bit? So we have one Friday game in Quesnel, two Saturday games in PG and one Sunday game in PG. So we’re all pretty excited.”
He did warn the Quesnel audience that Hesselgrave might get called up to the BCHL’s Spruce Kings and Mamic could potentially be called up to the West Kelowna Warriors that weekend, but said “that’s ok, Isaiah can have all the glory.”
Sprague praised the West Fraser Centre organization staff, and all involved in putting the unscheduled game together, saying “so it was kind of a pleasure to do a game there.”
It should be a great opportunity for minor hockey players in Quesnel to see what the next level in their minor hockey career might look like, and just have some fun with a couple of highly skilled teams.
Fans are asked to be at the arena by 6 p.m. to catch all the action.