Prowling Cougars beef up their corps

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

The Prince George Cougars can't wait to get back to the Spruce City.

The Cats have been world-beaters at the CN Centre, piling up a perfect 5-0 record.

On the road, it's been a different story.

They're 2-5 away from home, including a 1-4 record on their current nine-game journey through the Western Hockey League.

They've been outscored 28-14 on the trip, which saw them play Game 6 last night in Lethbridge.

But the Cougars received some reinforcements last week, when GM Dallas Thompson acquired goaltender Joe Caligiuri, 19, from the Brandon Wheat Kings for a seventh-round bantam pick.

Head coach Drew Schoneck says Caligiuri should fit in nicely.

"I think it's a great complement to Kevin Armstrong, who we've had right from the start of the year," Schoneck said.

"Between Joe and Kevin, we have a solid goaltending tandem.

"Both guys are proven winners."

So far, so good.

Caligiuri was 1-0 with a 2.47 GAA and .934 save percentage with his new club before last night's tilt.

"This was my first trade, so it was a new experience," Caligiuri said.

"(Brandon GM Kelly McCrimmon) sent me home last week to wait for a trade, so I was anxious to finally hear where I was going.

"I just wanted to find a place somewhere in the league, and I'm excited that Prince George took a chance on me."

Secluded in northern B.C., the Cougars have experienced problems over the years with players refusing to play in Prince George.

But Caligiuri, a Winnipeg product, says he never considered boycotting the Cats.

"Not at all," he said.

"It's probably one of the furthest places from my home town, but I wanted to play.

"I've only been there once, for one game, when I was 17.

"I'm anxious to get to know the town a little bit, to know the guys and contibute to helping the team win.

"They have another Winnipeger, Kevin Armstrong, so he's the only I guy I know on the team."

The day after Caligiuri was dealt away, the Wheat Kings were awarded the 2010 Memorial Cup.

But even that couldn't put a damper on the goaltender's mood.

"It was the talk around town for quite some time," he said.

"That's disappointing, but there's always a chance that I could be in that Mem Cup with Prince George."

But Schoneck and Co. haven't been able to avoid distractions completely.

Right-winger Dale Hunt, 18, who started the season on the club's top line, was sent home to Sanford, Man.

The third-overall pick in the 2005 draft reacted poorly after being told he would be a healthy scratch.

Schoneck acted quickly.

"We've come a long way as a team towards cleaning this stuff up since I've taken over as coach," Schoneck says.

"It's always a process.

"Every team has a guy who doesn't want to play or wants a trade.

"This was a situation where we thought it was detrimental to the team, and we needed to make a move.

"We have lots of players who want to come, and we want to make sure our room is solid and not fractured."

Captain Dana Tyrell says Schoneck has the full support of the players.

"There's no problem (in the dressing room)," the Airdrie product told the Prince George Citizen.

"The coaches got rid of Dale, and I think our team is great.

"We've had some guys who didn't want to be here in past years, but we have none of those guys left this year."


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