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Local talent helps Cougars, Wildcats

The Southwest Cougars U18 AAA team is already roaring this campaign, but early season success is not its end game.

Led by head coach Troy Leslie of Virden, the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League team is 6-0 on the young season. In the spring, the Cougars, including Virden’s Ty Plaisier and Luke Mackenzie of Pipestone, will be hosting the 2022 Telus Cup Western Regionals in Virden. The winner there will advance to the Telus Cup national U18 AAA championships in Cape Breton.

“We got a young club,” said Leslie, an Elkhorn product. “It’s going to take a while for us to gel and come together, I think. There’s a lot of kids on our team, all of them, who have had less than 10 games of experience at this level. It is going to be a growing time for us. We want to make sure we are getting ready for when April comes.”

The Cougars do not have a third-year player this season. This has put some expectations on second-year players who saw only limited time last season in a campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaisier, a 16-year-od defenceman, is one of those players. Leslie said the assistant captain has handled the expectations well.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Plaisier has three assists through six games.  Of the defenceman’s strengths, the head coach said:

“He moves his feet well. He has the ability to make plays. Last year when he came in for us, we just asked him to keep things simple being a 15-year-old in the league. I think to start this year off we’re asking all our D the same thing – to keep things simple, make the plays in front of you. He’s a heads-up player and he can make plays. We just got to keep it simple off the hop here.”

Early on, Mackenzie has made an impact as a 15-year-old forward. The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder led the team in goals (four) and was tied for tops on the squad in points (10) through six games.

“He’s a big kid. He’s got a good frame on him,” Leslie said. “He’s strong and he shoots the puck well. He’s been put in some spots so far where he’s been able to score and, with the few returning forwards we do have up front, he is going to get some chances to be on the powerplay.”

Westman Wildcats

Virden’s Emma Ramsey is one of nine Westman Wildcats returning from last season’s regional U18 AAA female team. So far, head coach Guy Williams said the team’s strengths appear to youthful energy as well as team speed and agility. In Manitoba Female Hockey League U18 AAA action, the team won its first three games.

Ramsey, 17, is in her third year with the Wildcats. The 5-foot-3, 135-pound forward has two assists through eight games this season.

“Emma is a high energy player who leaves it all on the ice each time she sets foot on the ice. Good vision and positionally aware,” Williams said.