Evaluation process begins for Cougars
Evaluation process begins for Cougars
By JEFF GARD Northumberland Today
COBOURG — Curtis Hodgins coached the Whitby Fury all the way to the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s championship series this past season.
Now, the highly regarded bench boss has to promptly begin the evaluation process of his new team which, somewhat ironically, the Fury knocked out in the East Division semifinals.
Hodgins was named the new head coach of the Cobourg Cougars early last week and was in town during the weekend to watch the club’s rookie camp at the Cobourg Community Centre.
“I’m excited,” Hodgins said in an interview. “This is a new challenge for me. The Cougars are very well supported in the community and play in a great facility. That’s what attracted me here.”
Cobourg is coming off its best season ever at the junior A level. The Cougars registered 77 points to finish second — one point out of first — in the East Division and earn a first-round playoff bye.
Expectations were high going into the playoffs, but the Cougars were quickly dispatched by Whitby in five games. The Fury, which had swept the Lindsay Muskies in three games before facing the Cougars, went on to eliminate the Kingston Voyageurs and Toronto Lakeshore Patriots before losing the Buckland Cup to the Stouffville Spirit in six games.
“We knew we had to be really good (to beat out Cobourg),” Hodgins said. “After Christmas, the Cougars were pretty much unbeatable, but playoffs are a different game. It’s about momentum and the will to win, and I think that was the difference in that series.”
Due to age, the Cougars lose forwards Derek Foote and Dylon McMahon, and defencemen Anton Zupancic, Jared Martin, Taylor Pernerowski and Brett Gilmour.
That still leaves quite a strong core of potential returning players.
Hodgins said it’s still early in the evaluation process, and to know who is coming back for sure, but noted “this is still a dynamic team.”
Even having coached for 12 years in the OJHL — 10 with the Bowmanville Eagles and two with Whitby — Hodgins believes he’s inheriting one the most offensively gifted group he’s ever worked with.
“At the same time, I’m going to try to put my imprint on this team as the coach and I’ll expect everyone to be accountable,” Hodgins said. “We’re going to try and build a team with great chemistry. I’m a coach that wants to have tremendous chemistry and use all four lines. In the playoffs (with Whitby), we needed that depth.”
Hodgins said goaltending coach Dan Stewart has agreed to return and he’ll name his assistant coaches in the near future.
On Saturday, Hodgins met with some of the possible returning players, along with having his eyes on the players looking to make an impression during rookie camp.
“We need to add a lot of size and grit, so we’re looking for that,” Hodgins said, noting a little extra attention would be spent watching defencemen. The Cougars need to rebuild their blueline with the departure of so many overagers.
“There’s always a surprise or two at these types of camps,” the coach added, referring to players — at any position — unexpectedly standing out.
Also part of the evaluation process this past weekend was the Cougars’ new director of hockey operations Perry Bowles.
Not only is Bowles a former Cobourg resident — his first son was born here 26 years ago — but a former Cougars general manager as well, starting midway through the 2007-2008 campaign until the end of the following season. He left to take a position with the Ontario Hockey Association, but is excited to be back.
Bowles and Hodgins previously worked together with the Bowmanville Eagles organization, which merged operations with the Cougars in 2010.
“It’s a terrific opportunity to come to such a good franchise,” Bowles said. “When I was first asked if I was interested in this, I already knew a bunch of the people in place and that made my decision that much easier. This is organization has the best volunteers in the league.”
Bowles said the first week on the job was a hectic one and the focus will turn to bringing all of the staff and volunteers together.
From a player standpoint, he will be reaching out to the all of the potential returning players along with helping to assess what players from the rookie camp will move on to another camp scheduled for June.
“Obviously the Cougars have a good core of players, some were lost to age so we’re looking to fill those spots,” Bowles said. “We’re not going to stray far from what’s here. We’ll take time to assess and we will make changes if we need to.”
Although the sudden changes to the coaching and management structure overshadowed the rookie camp, the prospects were still looking to make an impression for the new Cougars brass.
Local products Colbie Andrews and Tyler Davey, who were both on hand to watch Saturday, remember what it was like for them two years ago when they participated in rookie camp and ultimately made the team.
“If you want to make an impression, you’ve just got to do all the little things and just work your hardest out there,” Andrews said.
“I just remember going out and giving everything I had,” Davey said. “Just try to play big and get noticed.”
Andrews and Davey were also among of group of returning Cougars players who showed up to meet with Hodgins and Bowles on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a change, but I think it’s going to be a good change. Not sure what’s going to happen, you just hope for the best,” Andrews said. “They seem like a great bunch of guys. They want team play and there will be no selfishness. (Hodgins) is treating everybody the same.”
Davey said, of Hodgins, “he’ll have a system for us and if we play within that system we’ll have a good chance to go far and get a championship for our community and team.”