Sports

Cobourg Cougars clinch first place heading into RBC Cup semifinals

By Jeff Gard, Northumberland Today

The Cobourg Cougars clinched first place in the RBC Cup preliminary standings with a 5-2 victory over the Brooks Bandits on Thursday night at the Cobourg Community Centre.
JEFF GARD/Northumberland Today

The Cobourg Cougars clinched first place in the RBC Cup preliminary standings with a 5-2 victory over the Brooks Bandits on Thursday night at the Cobourg Community Centre. JEFF GARD/Northumberland Today

COBOURG - 

The Cobourg Cougars clinched first place Thursday night at the end of preliminary play for the RBC Cup national junior A hockey championship.

The Cougars earned a 5-2 victory over the Brooks Bandits to move ahead of them in the final standings. Cobourg will face the Penticton Vees in a semifinal match-up Saturday at 2:30 p.m. while Brooks will take on the Terrebonne Cobras at 7:30 p.m. The championship final is Sunday at 5 p.m.

By placing in the top spot with the win over the Bandits, the Cougars had the option for their semifinal to be the afternoon or evening game Saturday.

“It's great that we won that game and it's great that we had the opportunity to finish first, but now we have two big games ahead of us,” said Cougars head coach John Druce, adding during the interview that the Saturday game time hadn't been confirmed yet. Hockey Canada confirmed the time.

“It was a good little battle (against Brooks), but I don't think it's the game everyone expected though.”

That's because it wasn't the same Brooks lineup that went undefeated in their first three games. The Bandits opted to rest several key players, including Cale Makar, Parker Foo, Nick Prkusic, Ty Mappin and starting goaltender Mitch Benson, while giving others an opportunity to play.

“It's a good opportunity for us to get our backup goalie in who hasn't play since February, a couple of our affiliates who have travelled with us for the last two-and-a-half months and then some guys who are only out of the lineup (as scratches),” said Brooks head coach Ryan Papaioannou, who believed his team would meet Terrebonne in the semifinals regardless of the outcome against Cobourg. “For us it's more of a team builder, get some guys in that are I guess you call them the black aces. It's a nice thing for those guys to get the opportunity to play at the national stage.”

Cobourg was without a couple of players – Mac Lowry and Quinn Syrdyiuk – who appeared to be injured in Tuesday's game against Terrebonne.

“Just resting a few bodies,” Druce said, not elaborating on the status of the players.

Thursday night, forward Ryan Casselman didn't return for the third period.

“Quite possibly next game we could have everybody back” was as much as Druce would say.

The rest of the Cougars regulars were in the lineup against the Bandits.

“We've come into this tournament and we had a goal of winning every game. Obviously that didn't happen, but the players that have worked so hard and prepared to play in this tournament on my team, have the opportunity to play hockey,” Druce said.

“For their team, they obviously have a game plan that they're following and I respect that as well. They gave the other players that hadn't got a chance to play for them an opportunity which is probably a good thing for their whole organization.”

Spencer Roberts had a goal and assist for the Cougars on Thursday night and led all players in the preliminary round in goals (4) and points (7).

Brennan Roy, Connor MacEachern, Jesse Baird and Miranda also scored for Cobourg, which led 1-0 after the first period and 4-2 by the end of the second. Brenden Locke registered three assists in the win.

Brooks will have its full lineup next game and coach Papaioannou believes his club is in good shape heading into the semifinals.

“We like the way we've been playing,” he said. “I don't think we necessarily look at tonight's game as a part of the whole body of work, but the first three were good and now we refocus on a Terrebonne team that we don't know a ton about but we're working on all that right now.”

Saturday's national semifinal will be the biggest game in the history of the Cougars franchise at the junior A level.

“The last couple years when I found out we were hosting this tournament I just did everything I could to make sure I was part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here,” said fifth-year Cougars player Theo Lewis.

“For us to have had the rest we had in our break after playoffs definitely helped us out. It gave guys some time to recover their injuries. We got to work on re-establishing our systems and that's really what has led to our success so far.”

Cobourg won three of its four preliminary games, but now in Saturday's elimination game has to face the one opponent that defeated them, which Penticton did 3-2 in overtime Monday night.

“I think going into that game Monday against Penticton...guys were a little intimidated. You always hear a lot and they're a renowned program – last year they had two first round (NHL) draft picks – so they're always a top team,” Lewis said. “I think guys didn't know what to expect the first 10-20 minutes of that game. We were a little slow and hesitant but after that first period we realized we can skate with them, we can outplay them and that's what led to us getting back in that game.

“You take a team like that to overtime, that's pretty impressive. I think guys in the room are pretty confident that we have a good shot at taking them down and getting our revenge on Saturday.”

Lewis said there will be no shortage of motivation for the veteran Cougars club.

“We have an old team here, a lot of guys including myself that are ending their junior careers after this week,” he said. “Speaking for myself here, you just do whatever you can to make sure the team is successful. You want to end your career on top.”