Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Stengler gone, reasons 'hockey-related'
by JIM SWANSON, Citizen Sports Editor
It wasn't the town, his billets, or the sometimes chewy air.
Blair Stengler has left the Prince George Cougars for what he called "hockey reasons," and doesn't sound like he'll be pulling that No. 22 jersey over his head ever again.
Stengler, 19, a second-year WHL player, abruptly left the team on Sunday, packed and was on his way out of town with his father on Monday after a 15-minute meeting with Cougars general manager Dallas Thompson. Stengler is heading home to Mankota, Sask., located south of Swift Current, to ponder his future.
"I've decided I wasn't happy in Prince George anymore, and it's a personal choice," said Stengler, reached as he was driving through Calgary on Monday night.
"I'm going home and I'll decide what I'm going to do. I don't really want to let out the reasons — everything's fine, but it's hockey-related and I'd rather not specify."
Asked if icetime was a factor, Stengler replied: "Yeah, that was part of it, but wasn't the whole thing."
Among his options, Stengler said he's considering a return to the WHL or joining a Junior A club. The Melville Millionaires, a team with former Cougars Brett Parker and Josh Bray, hold Stengler's SJHL rights. Stengler played one game for the Nipawin Hawks as a 17-year-old, spending most of that season in midget.
"Dallas said he'd give me some time to figure things out and decide," said Stengler.
"It's unlikely I'd come back to Prince George, I'd say. I liked the town, the fans, and my billets, but that had nothing to do with it."
Thompson wouldn't say if that door has been closed.
"I met with him, and he said he wasn't having fun coming to the rink and wanted to go home and think about it," he said.
"I don't think this came out of the blue for him, but it did for us. We'll talk in a couple of days. I won't trade him if he doesn't want to play."
Stengler, six-foot-five and 200 pounds, was playing on the second or third lines this season, and had been used as a primary penalty killer by head coach Mike Vandekamp. He had his icetime cut back in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Kamloops Blazers, the team's eighth in a row. Stengler, who had three goals and three assists in 27 games, hadn't recorded a point in a 12-game span.
Stengler's decision didn't sit well with some of his teammates, one of whom openly wondered if Stengler would still be here if the team was on an eight-game winning streak.
"I don't know what the problem was with Blair, but for myself, the big thing is that if you're a team guy, or a guy you want on your team, I would feel sick and guilty about leaving 20 guys hanging, especially with some injuries we have," said captain Myles Zimmer, who denied there will be a procession of quitters, even after two days of intense physical practices.
"No matter what goes through your head, there are things you can do to change it. I guess he just figured he'd be better off elsewhere, but it's something the other guys aren't happy about. Obviously, he didn't want to be a part of this team, so we don't want him on this team. He was playing enough, guys are mad.
"That's not the way out of this eight-game losing streak, to walk out on guys. We have to stick together."
Defenceman Andy Rogers echoed Zimmer's comments.
"The guys are surprised, didn't see it coming," he said. "I still think it's unacceptable that he can just walk out on the team, but that stuff happens in hockey. We have to look past it."
• Thompson's efforts to bring in import defenceman Siarhei Kolasau are no further ahead than they were three weeks ago following the release of Russian winger Alex Alexandrov. The Cougars GM is focusing his efforts on finding a blueliner who can help a sagging power play.
"We need to find something that fits, and obviously we need someone who can help on the back end on the power play," he said.
"But nothing's out there yet."
The Cougars have been playing five defencemen regularly since the trade that sent Mike Berube to Red Deer. Rogers, Curtis Cooper, Devin Featherstone, Ty Wishart and Randy King have taken up most of the icetime, with Chris Vanduynhoven and Ryan Kerr spotted infrequently.
• Vandekamp sounded alarm bells that Dan Gendur, the 18-year-old centre who has missed 20 games due to injury, could be lost for the season.
Gendur has a thigh bruise that has calcified, and the problem seems to be growing, not getting better.
Adding to the roster problem is a new injury. Winger Kirk Meaver, 18, has a cast on his hand because of a broken knuckle that will keep him out for up to six weeks. He missed a game due to a concussion, and a nagging knuckle problem was checked out further, leading to the cast.
Rookie winger Levi Brotnov, out 19 games with a broken wrist, is slated to return to the lineup Friday when the Cougars start a five-game road trip by visiting the Kamloops Blazers.
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