October 26, 2011
When Brett Connolly starting skating with some of the Tampa Bay Lightning's big names, the handwriting seemed to be on the wall that the Prince George Cougars would need to name a new captain.
Connolly, who might have seemed like a long shot to make the NHL full-time at age 19 after missing nearly half the Cougars games, mostly to injury, across the past two seasons, is sticking with Tampa Bay. General manager Steve Yzerman confirmed it after the 19-year-old right wing, who was one five potential returning forwards for Team Canada, played his ninth NHL game last night.
From Damian Cristodero:
"We feel Brett's shown that he belongs in the NHL and makes our team better," Yzerman wrote in a text message. "So, we've decided to keep him."
... Connolly, 19, has not only been playing on a line with C Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis, he has picked their brains as well.
"Both guys have Stanley Cups and a lot of experience, so, for me, it's nice to have a couple of guys like that I can talk to," Connolly said before Tuesday's game. "I'm just trying to take as much knowledge as I can." (St. Petersburg Time)
There isn't a lot of room for sentiment in the hockey business, but some should be spared for the Cougars. (Would that there was a way they could have had closure on Connolly much, much earlier, but such is the NHL-CHL agreement, for now.) It is the second time in four seasons the WHL's northern outpost has lost its best 19-year-old player perhaps unexpectedly.
From Guy Flaming:
While Connolly making the team shouldn't be a complete shocker to anyone, I do think the majority of people expected him back in Prince George at some point. The Cougars seem to desperately need him having scored the second-fewest goals, and with their sixth straight loss sit second-last in the league. Had Connolly been returned, the team could have turned things around as they have a solid young base of talent, or he would likely have been dealt at some point and improve the team some picked to win the division this year for the next few seasons.
By two different twists of fate, the Cougars have missed out on adding to their arsenal. Connolly making the Lightning this year, and Dana Tyrell suffering a season ending injury while with Hockey Canada. (Coming Down The Pipe!)
It is good to see the hip surgery that cost Connolly all but 16 WHL games and the IIHF under-18 championship of his draft season has not had any residual effect. With his promotion to the NHL, the top eight picks from that 2010 draft are in the NHL, with the Florida Panthers' Erik Gudbranson and Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen getting closer to being full-time pros.
Meantime, as fate would have it, tonight's WHL schedule includes a battle of the Brett-less. Prince George plays a Kelowna Rockets team which seems reconciled to losing right wing Brett Bulmer to the Minnesota Wild. It sounds like Bulmer will not be back any time soon.
"I said at the beginning of the year, if he is continuing to improve and continuing to contribute to the team, we'll keep him around," [Wild GM] Fletcher said. "And, so far, he's a better player than he was two months ago. He's continued to improve and continued to develop and continued to keep pace with the NHL players, and he's obviously making contributions to our team. (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Hey, it's part of the deal in the junior game. Still hurts the teams affected, though.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: Getty Images).