Cougars goalie eager to face his old team
His new hockey home is with the Cobourg Cougars, but goaltender Nathan Perry will return to his hometown of Kingston on Thursday night.
Perry is expected to start in net for the Cougars — which have struggled through their first 23 games — when they head to the Invista Centre to face the Kingston Voyageurs (12-7-5).
While a 4-2 loss to the Whitby Fury on Monday night dropped Cobourg’s record to 5-15-3, the Ontario Junior Hockey League club has benefited from the recent arrival of Perry. Prior to his debut on Oct. 21, the Cougars had just one victory in their first 15 games and had lost 13 straight.
Perry won his first three starts and has four victories total in seven games so far. He is averaging 29.7 saves per game and has a 3.13 goals-against average.
“The guys have really welcomed me here to the team and getting some wins has definitely helped...spirits are high right now,” Perry said.
Perry, 19, is eager for the opportunity to prove himself as a starter. He was acquired from the Weeks Crushers of the Maritime Hockey League, which were carrying three goaltenders.
“I’m a 19-year-old and want to play a lot so I came home looking for a new spot to play and luckily got a call (from the Cougars),” Perry said. “The OJHL has a lot more skill to it so it’s definitely good to be back in this league and being close to home is a lot better.”
Early last season, Perry was faced with a similar situation, except the campaign began in his hometown. He had a brief stint with the Voyageurs — seeing action in four games — but was dealt to the Jr. B Kitchener Dutchmen. The Vees already had a proven starter in Charlie Finn and while he was injured they also acquired overage netminder Justin Gilbert. Eventually, they had both goalies available.
“It was pretty tough to stay in the lineup there. I learned a lot from (the Voyageurs) while I was there and I have nothing against them,” Perry said. “I started the year off there and things didn’t work out the way I would have liked to, but that’s the way things go sometimes. I ended up getting traded to Kitchener and finished off the season there.”
A product of the Kingston minor hockey ‘AAA’ system, Perry was an eighth round draft pick by the Kingston Frontenacs in 2009 and he played as a 16-year-old with the Amherstview Jets junior C club. He returned to the Jets the 2010-2011 season and had another strong season leading up to an unexpected late-season call-up by the Frontenacs. He played in two regular season games and all five playoffs games as well.
“It was a big jump going from junior C to the ‘O’ but it was good experience and definitely helped me get ready for junior A,” Perry said. “I wasn’t really expecting to play much when I got there. I sat a lot of games in a row on the bench and then got to a point where they just threw me into a game against Sudbury which at the time (current Cougars teammate) Cody Mintz was on the (Wolves) team. I knew it was going to be a big jump for me and the skill was going to be better than junior C but I felt I was ready for it. It was definitely a big task for me, but it was fun.”
Another current Cobourg teammate, Mark MacAulay, was also a rival that year — in the Empire junior C circuit — as he played for the Port Hope Panthers. Sharing time with goalie Zach DeSousa in Amherstview, Perry took advantage of the playing opportunities when presented.
“I played there my 16-year-old year and my 17-year-old year before I went to the Frontenacs, but they definitely helped me get ready for that,” he said. “They took me in as a 16-year-old and let me play a lot of the games so definitely a learning experience there and helped me start off my junior career.”
Perry didn’t know what to expect coming to Cobourg and joining a team firmly embedded in a prolonged losing streak, but he hoped to just help provide a spark.
“Definitely the guys were down in the dumps a little bit, but I could tell they really wanted that win,” Perry said. “It’s a new season for us now…trying to put the past behind us.”
Cobourg started the season with just one regular goaltender — Joe Keyser from the Florida Jr. Blades with returning netminders not available. Emerson Verrier was still recovering from off-season hip surgery while Keinan Brown did not return after being reassigned by the OHL’s Erie Otters. Verrier returned briefly before leaving for more surgery.
“It’s been a rough go of it with regards to our goaltending situation — not necessarily in the play, but just the situation. It’s been tough on Joe with only one goaltender here for five or six weeks and that’s tough on a goaltender, especially when their team is struggling early, so to have a little bit of stability back there is huge and a big confidence for the team,” said Cougars head coach Curtis Hodgins.
“Nathan’s done a great job for us. He really provides some stability back there…the way he plays the puck is a big benefit to our club as well. He’s just played real well, real solid and in this division you need that kind of goaltending night in, night out because everybody else has it. He’s given the guys a little bit of confidence back there and he’s playing well right now.”
With several young players in the lineup, especially on defence, Perry is trying to take a leadership role.
“You have to be vocal with the young guys,” he said. “It’s a new experience for them so you walk them through it and calm them down, especially during the play I like to talk a lot. I like to give them good constructive criticism and sometimes you have to tell them what they did wrong and they’ll take it the wrong way or the good way.”
Perry had said in an interview following his second game with the Cougars that he had already circled the date on the calendar for his return to Kingston. Well, Nov. 15 is almost here.
“I know a lot of guys on the Kingston team so I’m definitely looking forward to playing there against some buddies and some guys I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll get the win there...I’ll have a lot of friends and family there, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“I’m a little nervous, but going into it I’m excited too. It’s always good to be a little nervous going into games. There will probably be a pretty good crowd there so it should be fun. I’m just looking to have a good game.”