Vankleek Hill Cougars are expected to begin their shortened season on January 8.
Vankleek Hill Cougars are expected to begin their shortened season on January 8.

Cougars hopeful of January start

Stephen Jeffery
EAP
The Vankleek Hill Cougars are “cautiously optimistic” ahead of the start of a shortened season in January.

Teams in the National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL) met earlier this month and agreed to start the regular season on January 8. The shortened season would feature 18 games, followed by playoffs in late March or early April. The league expected to mandate non-contact play at the start of the season, which would be reviewed based on the COVID situation.

Cougars general manager Marc Berniqué said the news gave the team something to look forward to after months of uncertainty. While the ultimate approval of the season dates would depend on health unit advice, Berniqué said the date would provide options for teams.

“We're anxious and excited, but cautiously optimistic that we'll have a season,” he said. “With the non-contact protocols, it's going to be quick whistle, they don't want scrums in the corner. There also won’t be celebration of goals on the ice, you’ll have to go right to the bench.”

The Cougars continued to run conditioning camps, both to provide local juniors with ice time and also scout potential recruits. Berniqué said he had already signed twin brothers and Le Sommet 2019-20 players Jonathan and Nicholas Campbell after one of the camps. 

“They were a surprise to us, we'd heard of them but we hadn't seen them until they came to one of our camps,” he said. “Then we have our veteran core of players that should hopefully be returning, plus we have choices to make with others from the conditioning camp.”

A surplus of 21-year-olds led to a trade of long-time player Trystan Lavoie to Gatineau Hull-Volant. The Cougars will receive the playing rights of Danny Lauzon and Brad Faubert in exchange.

“We have a seven or eight 21-year-olds this year and we could only sign four,” Berniqué said. “[Lavoie’s] been with us for four years and we explained to him, you might be the odd guy out and we don't want you to miss out on hockey.

“He's a good kid, he's always been there for us so we wanted him to be able to play as a 21-year-old and find him a home.”

The NCJHL 2020-21 schedule has not been set, nor have training camps for local teams.