A home opener is special, especially when it has been so long!

Yes, the points count the same as any other regular-season game; yes, it is not the intensity of a playoff game; yes, in reality, it is the start of a long 68-game grind.

Players, coaches, and fans usually get excited about opening night; especially since the unknown became a reality thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine.

As long as you have proof of vaccination, you are more than welcome to attend.

Capacity is capped at 50%, a number the Cougars and other league teams hoped for but did not receive in the 2020-21 bubble season.

Last year at this time, the WHL and most other sports leagues were in a holding pattern.

The Cougars got to play 22 games in the spring in Kamloops and Kelowna.

In reality, it can be argued those were just exhibition games to give the players much-needed ice time.

This is not a full return to normal but it is a return to Cougars hockey and for that, fans should be thankful.

The schedule has been changed and is subject to change again but the defending BC Division Kamloops Blazers are ready to play the Cougars for real Saturday night at 7:00 at CN Centre.

Prince George will play its first 16 games against division opponents, including a stretch of six in a row against the Victoria Royals this month.

The Cougars schedule can be found right here.

Early October is usually the time of the hockey year all organizations have hope, promise, belief, and confidence.

How long the feeling continues varies from team to team and city to city.

The significance of the first game in front of the home crowd, in essence, has little to do with the standings or the opponent or line match-ups.

This is about the return of the team and WHL after a lengthy absence.

Naturally, not everything will be judged on the result and the effort of this one particular game, but this is the start of a journey that can help set the tone.

It is one thing to play a home game in mid-November or late January, and yet another when the gun fires to signal a new beginning.

The Cougars have not been in the playoffs since the 2016-17 season but expectations are high because their roster consists of several highly-regarded top bantam draft picks.

They can no longer claim they are a “young team in transition.”

Instead, they are a “young team with some experience,” and belief that they will not just challenge for a Western Conference wild-card spot but be in the mix for first, second, and no worse than third place in their division.

The Cats roster, which can be found right here, is not settled by any stretch of the imagination.

They are carrying 25 players: three goalies, eight defencemen, and 14 forwards.

Six of the players are rookies and four are 20-year-olds (one over the limit); goalie Taylor Gauthier, defenceman Majid Kaddoura plus forwards Jonny Hooker, and Connor Bowie.

Hooker was named Team Captain today (Friday).

The Gauthier “watch” is of interest. Cougars coach and general manager Mark Lamb in this week’s Catscan podcast said he is of the belief that Gauthier, who has been with the team four years, is the best goalie in the league.

He also admitted a trade is a distinct possibility because of the uniqueness of the situation but he will only listen to realistic offers as he has no plans to just give Gauthier away.

There are 3 P.G. boys on the team: defenceman Aiden Reeves and forwards Caden Brown and Fischer O’Brien.

The fun, the journey, the highs, and the lows are about to begin.

On Saturday night, last season’s COVID-19 stoppage, the stat lines, and schedule/matchups take a back seat.

This is all about soaking in an opening night that truly is its own entity.

All that’s left … is to drop the puck!

Hooray! And welcome back!

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This is season four of Hartley’s Cat Scan, a weekly podcast show that predominately features the PG Cougars.

My first guest for year four is Mark Lamb, who enters his 4th season as the Cougars Super Boss.

In this episode, he touches on a number of topics including:

  • The team’s goaltending situation
  • Cougars plethora of young talent that is on the roster
  • The excitement of having a ‘somewhat normal’ regular season
  • The home opener against Kamloops on Saturday

 

Taking Note:


FROM THE QUOTE RACK

Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao accepted his party’s nomination to run for president of the Philippines in 2022, and political pundits say he has more than a puncher’s chance. Well, duh — everybody else is too scared to throw their hat in the ring.

*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/

In Lamar Jackson’s acrobatic dive into the end zone against the Chiefs last week, he now admits that in the middle of it, he got the ‘twisties.

*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California

LA Angels manager Joe Maddon: Shohei Ohtani saying he wants to win doesn’t mean he wants to leave LA. Of course not. Ohtani probably meant he wanted to be traded to the Dodgers and be part of baseball’s first half-billion-dollar payroll.

*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com

In Case You Missed It:

Bills backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky and Hillary Gallagher had a July wedding in Cleveland, Ohio, before heading off to Cabo, Mexico, for their honeymoon. In short, it was the ole hitch and go.

*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com

Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He also is the radio color commentator for P.G. Cougars’ home games.
Hartley has been on the Prince George airwaves since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).