The ice is in, the arena is ready, it is almost that time again in Fort St. James.
The Cariboo Cougars and Northern Capitals will be hosting the Thompson Blazers and Thompson-Okanagan Lakers for the annual Cariboo Hockey Winter Classic this weekend.
The festivities will include four games across two northern communities (Vanderhoof and Fort St. James) in three days, headlined by the two outdoor games at the Fort’s Ernie Sam Memorial Arena.
— Cariboo Cougars U18 AAA (@cariboocougars) January 18, 2023
Cariboo Hockey General Manager Trevor Sprague has been in the Fort all week, helping build the ice surface in the outdoor rink and making sure everything is good to go for the weekend.
He told My PG Now that fans can expect “some great hockey, that’s for sure, and some excited fans that will be out to watch.”
The Northern Capitals kick the weekend off outdoors against the Lakers at 6:30 on Friday night, then the Cariboo Cougars will do the same at 6:30 Saturday night against the Blazers.
On Saturday morning, the Capitals will head down the road to Vanderhoof, where they will play their second of the doubleheader at 10:00 am.
Lauren Baker and Sarah Prestmo are two Vanderhoof products that will get to play in front of friends and family in that game, making the weekend extra special.
Then the Cariboo Cougars will finish the weekend with a Sunday morning game indoors in the Fort Forum.
On the ice, the Winter Classic is starting to become a cursed night for the home teams.
In 5 outdoor games played over 3 years, the home team’s record is 0-4-1, still looking for their first win five years after the puck was first dropped at the Ernie Sam Memorial Arena.
“I think you have to show up and play,” Sprague said, comparing the outdoor game to a playoff matchup.
“This is our home and we have a lot of pride here, and hopefully we can win our first games here this weekend… I know the coaching staffs over the years have busted their butts making sure their teams are prepared and ready to go – lets hope this year the players are ready to go like their coaches are.”
The warmer than normal January temperatures have not slowed the ice making process, Sprague said things have all been according to plan.
“We have about two and two-quarter inches of ice on the pad and it has been nice and cold up there in Fort St. James and Nak’azdli, we are looking good.”
Before the winter classic, the Cariboo Cougars would always try and play one weekend in Fort St. James to treat the northern community to higher level hockey than they would normally ever get.
“We are hoping to make sure the youth are excited to go to the rink and play the game that we all love,” Sprague said.
“It brings out the community, with all the elders, old timers, men’s hockey, and the minor hockey association, they are all pretty excited to come out and watch.”
Hartley Miller also sat down with the Cariboo Cougars’ head coach Tyler Brough to discuss the weekend on a recent episode of the Catscan Podcast, which you can find here.