Kamloops Blazers defenceman Josh Connolly will be on the ice at CN Centre on Dec. 23 as the Cariboo Cougars renew an an annual holiday tradition.
Connolly will be among the nearly two dozen graduates of the Cougars program to return for the alumni game.
“It’s fun going back, playing with some of the guys you played with, playing with the new guys,” Connolly said. “I enjoyed it last year and it should be fun this year as well.”
Connolly has fond memories of the time he spent playing for his hometown team in the BC Major Midget League. He said his time with the Cougars helped him prepare to take the next step in his hockey career.
“It’s really like the Western Hockey League, practice a lot, you work out a lot and it’s a good level of hockey,” he said.
In particular Connolly credits the Cougars coaching with helping him improve his play in his own end, something of upmost importance for a player at his position.
In 42 regular-season games over two seasons with the Cougars, Connolly had 13 goals and 29 assists. But some of his favourite experiences came during visits to the Mac's Midget AAA tournament in Calgary.
“The playoff run was pretty cool and I made a lot of friends," he said.
Connolly had a lot of success on the ice with the Cougars and that carried over to last year when as a rookie he helped the Blazers reach the WHL's Western Conference final. This year Connolly is taking on a bigger role on the ice with a Blazers team in rebuilding mode.
"I know our team isn’t as strong as last year, but I’m playing a ton,” he said. “Hopefully our team can start winning and make the playoffs, that would be a really good goal for us.”
Come Dec. 23 at 7 p.m., Connolly and the other players in the Cariboo Cougars alumni game can put aside all those concerns about their club teams, reconnect with old friends and have a good time on the CN Centre ice.
Among the other players who will suit up are:
Ryan Howse F
Alex Roach D
Seb Lloyd F
Tyson Witala F
Chase Witala F
Jake LeBrun F
Jordan Duncan F
Justin Duncan D
Liam Blackburn F
Braiden Epp F
Linden Martell F
Tanner Fejstrom F
Raymond Grewal D
Stephen Penner D
Harjas Grewal F
Chase Astorino F
Shaun Cormier F
Chris Allbee F
Nick Headrick D
James Morrison G
Jared Rathjen G
It's never hard to tell when Bryan Allbee is on the ice for the Cariboo Cougars. Not only does the blue-liner have one of the bigger bodies on the team, he's also one of the most vocal players in the rink.
Allbee knows the importance of communicating with his teammates and when he's open and looking for a pass, his voice echoes throughout the CN Centre.
"It's huge, everyone's got to start doing it," the second-year player from Prince George said. "We've got to start talking more."
All that talking is paying off for Allbee as he's averaging nearly a point a game for the Cougars, while still adhering to his defensive assignments in his own zone. His excellent play early in the year earned him the team's nomination for BC Major Midget League player of the month.
In 18 games this year he has seven goals and 10 assists.
"I'm trying to hop into the offence whenever I can and produce to help the team," he said.
Allbee said his offensive numbers have jumped this year in part because he's being put in situations to succeed.
"I'm getting the ice time and the points are coming a lot more than last year," he said. "Being on the power helps a lot too."
Prior to dropping a pair of games to the BCMML leading Okanagan Rockets last weekend, the Cougars had won five of eight and Allbee said the team is really starting to gel.
The Cougars are going to need to find that formula for success again asAllbee and his teammates are getting ready for back-back road trips in the coming weeks, first against the Vancouver NW Giants and then against the Valley West Hawks. The next home games are slated for Dec. 14-15 when the Greater Vancouver Canadians come calling.
On the horizon is the annual Mac's Midget Tournament in Calgary over the holidays
"I'm really looking forward to it, I had an awesome experience last time," Allbee said. "We were pretty successful last year."
Although his offensive game is flourishing, Allbee is still working on using his six-foot, 170-pound frame more effectively in the physical aspect of the sport.
"I know the coaches want me to start picking it up," he said. "I should be hitting lots."
The Cariboo Cougars fell to 8-10-1 after losing 9-3 to the North West Giants in Burnaby. The same teams will meet again Sunday morning at the Burnaby Winter Club starting at 9:30. Catch all the action on playfullscreen.com.
The Burnaby Winter Club is never an easy place to visit in the BC Major Midget League, but the Cariboo Cougars won't be intimidated this weekend as they face then Vancouver NW Giants.
"My experience with the Giants is that they're always a good skilled hockey team," Cougars general manager Trevor Sprague said. "They like teams to sit in the penalty box and it allows them to work on their power play."
As a result the Cougars coaching staff has been preaching discipline this week as the team prepares for the trip to the Lower Mainland.
Because the second-place Giants (14-3-1) are used to having success, Sprague said the Cougars might be able to frustrate the opposition by playing good, hard hockey shift in and shift out.
"We need to have good first and second effort on pucks, win battles along the wall, capitalize on opportunities and make sure to get their 40 shots in and outskate them," Sprague said.
The Cougars head into the weekend looking to get back the two positions they dropped in the standings last weekend with back-to-back narrow losses to the first-place Okanagan Rockets. At 8-9-1 the Cougars now sit in six place, but are only two points out of fourth.
"We're working our way up right now to be one of the top teams in the league," Sprague said. "Coach [Bryan] MacLean is really happy; he's seeing a lot of progress."
The Cougars and Giants will face off at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday.