When Hockey Canada announced in June 2015 that the Cobourg Cougars would
host the 2017 RBC Cup, Brent Tully, general manager of the Cougars, went to
He began with research – how were other championship teams were built, and
who did he need to assemble a winning roster?
“There was a lot of learning and talking to general managers and coaches
that had played in the RBC Cup,” Tully said. “We had a two-year window and
last season, we were able to begin that vision and construct a team that we
felt would compete at this level.”
Traditionally, the Cougars have been a developmental team, with an equal
amount of each age group coming through their system, but the mindset
shifted last summer.
“That was a big difference for us this year and we knew we wouldn’t have as
many coming from Midget into Junior A as we normally do,” Tully said.
“While we were competitive last year, we also understood we had to take
this leap ahead.”
There were hurdles that Tully and the Cougars organization had to overcome
in order to bring a talented team together, including the absence of a
draft in Junior A and possible lack of chemistry.
“I killed a lot of trees over of the last 18 months on many depth charts,”
Tully said with a laugh. “I think you are always nervous as a general
manager … you want to make sure and hope that the chemistry is always
there, but when we looked at having a team of leaders and what we needed to
compete this season, it wasn’t a team of superstars. I think the toughest
thing for coaches and GMs is to find the right balance.”
To complete his vision, Tully acquired 13 of the 23 players on the RBC Cup
roster after June 1, 2016, including nine who were picked up after the puck
dropped on the 2016-17 regular season. He knew he was looking to build a
team of hard-working, blue-collar players that were skilled and brought
depth to every position.
“I think we have a great combination of leaders that have been with us for
a couple seasons and then we made a couple of trades where those kids were
captains on their old teams,” he said. “We have players that have
championship experience as well, which has been a bonus.”
Of course, the first step to building this team was hiring a new head coach
after Curtis Hodgins accepted a position at the University of Ontario
Institute of Technology midway through last season.
Tully didn’t take long to make a decision, with his first choice right in
front of him.
John Druce was around the Cougars last year as an assistant coach, but the
eight-year relationship between Tully and Druce also played into the GM’s
decision to offer the role to a rookie coach in a monumental season.
“The biggest attribute in John’s case that was appealing to me was someone
that could relate to the players,” Tully said. “Knowing John personally, I
knew he would take the time to understand them. I think when we went
looking for a coach, it was going back to someone who was a good teammate,
coachable and willing to listen. Certainly with his playing pedigree, I
knew the boys would pay close attention to what he had to say.”
Druce, who played 531 NHL games with Washington, Winnipeg, Los Angeles and
Philadelphia during a 15-year pro career, knows success isn’t just handed
to players and hard work is necessary to achieve goals. The Cougars had
some big aims this season and their bench boss knew he could help the team
“What I learned from having success in the playoffs in the NHL is knowing
how much discipline plays into it and going through that experience has
helped me tremendously,” Druce said. “If I didn’t have that NHL playoff
experience, I may react differently to things. Patience is so important and
so is sticking to the game plan.”
The message from Druce has been the same all season – there is no team that
is successful without being a whole.
“Without a surrounding cast and playing within a system and structure,
success isn’t likely to happen,” said Druce. “Our message has been getting
everyone on that same page. We have a group of 23 guys that want to play
for each other. There is nobody in that locker room that plays for
themselves first … they are in this together. I think that is very
important ingredient for a successful team.”
Another important component is having the right amount of veteran presence
on the roster and the Cougars feel they have some of the best in the
Ontario Junior Hockey League in Theo Lewis and captain Josh Maguire.
“They bring leadership and a work ethic that is one of the highest on our
team. Their leadership trickles down to the younger guys,” said Druce.
“They understand what it takes to play for this team and what it takes to
support their teammates.”
Lewis, 20, has been a part of the Cougars organization since he was 16 and
has been front and centre to the changes over the last two years. He knows
this is his last chance at a championship.
“The changes have been difficult at times, but fun to be a part of,” he
said. “It means a lot to me to be here and play in Cobourg.”
As much work as Tully and Druce have put into building the roster, Tully
acknowledged that without 53 years of support from the fans in Cobourg, the
franchise wouldn’t have this opportunity.
“The management, the coaching staff and the players will always turn over,
but the fan base is always here,” he said. “I think everything that has
happened this year is great for us, but I think it is best for the fans.
They are the ones that have been around for years and being able to have
this tournament on this stage is a tremendous thank you for our loyal
Cougars fans. We hope to make Cobourg proud.”