It seemed the stars aligned for the Chicago Cougars this past weekend as they hosted the Ft. Wayne Spacemen for the first series on home ice, and skated to two dominant victories in regulation. If the series sweep of the Spacemen wasn’t enough to tide the Cougars over, the team made the trip down south to Decatur on Sunday where they earned their final win of the weekend. Anyone who tuned in to this weekend’s games won’t be surprised when we declare Jozef Martancik the weekend’s hero -- with five goals on Friday, three on Saturday, and one on Sunday, Martancik skated away with 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) through three games. His nine goals account for more than one third of the team’s total offense generated this weekend, and give him a substantial cushion as he leads the league scoring race with 34 points. That being said, there’s room in the spotlight for two, and the second spot belongs to forward Kevin Johnston, who’s been a major impact player for the team thus far and was awarded the honor of Midwest East Forward of the Week on October 14th for his production against Motor City. When the Cougars returned to their home ice this past weekend, Johnston tallied three goals against Ft. Wayne and scored four on Sunday against the Blaze. He finished the weekend with nine points (seven goals, two assists) and sits comfortably in second place in scoring league-wide. “What most people don’t realize is how hard [Martancik and Johnston] work. Both players kill penalties for us as well, and have committed to playing physical and blocking shots,” says head coach Josh Dallmann. “We just want them to keep doing what they’re doing and bringing that work ethic to the rink and good things will happen.” The team’s offense might have stolen the show in their 10-0 and 7-3 victories over the Spacemen, as well as in the 7-3 win over the Blaze, but Dallmann and assistant coach Johnny Schwarz both credit the Cougars’ defense and goaltending with playing a critical role in all three wins this weekend. “Most guys don’t like to play defense,” Dallmann admits, “but I think it is something that guys are starting to take pride in and that’s showing [on the ice].” One particular player who’s likely to catch your eye is third year defender Cody Markotay, who has had himself a solid couple of games on the scoresheet as well as in his own zone. Markotay registered five assists this weekend and came close to registering his first goal of the season on Saturday night (the shot in question was ultimately tipped in front by forward Danny Mannarino, and Markotay ended up with the assist). “I try really hard to anticipate plays in games, so I feel like that kind of gives me the upper hand and is a reason as to why I, as a defenseman, do assist so often,” says Markotay of his offensive success so far this season. “But I still couldn't do it without all the guys who are on the ice with me.” Markotay has played an important role on the team’s majorly successful powerplay unit, but he’s also filled in on the penalty kill as well, helping tighten up the back end when the Cougars are caught with a man in the box. “We have taken a lot of penalties as of late and it’s put us in some tight spots in games. I think it just comes down to discipline and keeping our emotions in check,” says Dallmann, echoing Schwarz’s sentiments from last week. “As the season moves forward, if we keep taking penalties, it’s going to hurt us.” While the coaches are tasked with keeping expectations at bay, the players — Markotay included — remain optimistic. “This year, I feel like we’re really on point with the goals we're trying to reach, the games we're trying to secure, those plays that that we're making happen, and we're just working together as a team doing we have to do [to succeed].” The Cougars will be back home this coming weekend as they host the Decatur Blaze for a two game rematch. After the team’s success against the Blaze this past Sunday, fans, friends, and family will want to be sure to tune into the next few games to watch the Cougars compete against this familiar foe.
The month of October did not start off on the highest of notes for the Chicago Cougars (see below), but the team was determined to rectify that this past weekend as they returned to Detroit to square off against a more familiar foe: the Motor City Hockey Club. Historically, the Cougars have fared remarkably well against Motor City, outscoring the Michigan-based team by a combined score of 49-7 over their four game series in 2019-20. With both teams undergoing significant offseaon roster changes and with only a handful of players returning for the 2020-21 season, there was no guarantee that this year’s match-ups would see much or any of the same action. Heading into this weekend’s games, assistant coach Johnny Schwarz was fully aware that Motor City would not go down without a fight. “When you have won the division three years in a row, you know every team is going to be coming for you. Teams always want to beat the champs,” Schwarz says. Nevertheless, Friday night’s match-up saw the Cougars on the board early, finishing off the first period with a solid 3-0 lead thanks to the combined efforts of John Serbekian, TJ Haas, and Kevin Johnston. Johnston would go on to add three more goals and a helper to finish the night with five points. “We are learning to be more of an aggressive team and win at everything we do,” Schwarz says of his team, who would go on to tally eight unanswered goals in the second and third period to finish Motor City off by a devastating 11-0. “We are learning to [play as] a unit.” Saturday’s game saw a two-goal effort by rookie Brendan Miranda, as well as returner Danny Mannarino’s first point of the season, for a 5-1 finish. The team would conclude the weekend with fourteen powerplay minutes over the two games against Motor City, capitalizing on nearly half of their opportunities (3 of 7). While penalties are never predictable and often subject to the whims of a rotating cast of officials, one constant on the powerplay for the Cougars has been rookie TJ Haas. Haas scored two powerplay goals at the start of the month at the Detroit Showcase, and tacked on two assists with the man advantage this past weekend. Playing 5-on-4 is a far cry from playing with both teams at even strength, though, so we talked to Haas a bit about what being utilized as a powerplay heavyweight means for his game. “I think my game has changed by just having more space to make plays with the puck and find open teammates,” Haas says. Next weekend, the Cougars will play their first game at home as they square off against the Fort Wayne Spacemen. While fans are still not permitted inside the rink, the Cougars are hosting a home opener watch party for fans at the Blue Line, starting at 7 PM. There will be a $3 entry fee for all attendees, which pays for a food and drinks special.
October is off to a rocky start for the Chicago Cougars as they go 0-for-4 at the annual USPHL Premier Detroit Showcase. “The team definitely struggled putting a full 60 minutes together,” says assistant coach Johnny Schwarz of the team’s efforts this past weekend. “When you play good teams, they capitalize off your mistakes. You can’t take a shift off.” The Cougars opened the showcase with a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Lake Erie Bighorns, with the team’s only two goals coming from new recruit Kevin Johnston. Johnston, who spent the majority of last season in the USPHL’s 18U division but is currently one of the roster’s oldest forwards, brings what Schwarz considers some much-needed “veteran support” to a younger squad like the Cougars. The floodgates opened on Friday morning against the Toledo Cherokee, where the team spent more than 30 minutes in the penalty box. “Hockey is an emotional game,” Schwarz admits. “We need to do a better job controlling our egos and staying out of the box.” While TJ Haas got the Cougars on the board first with his first of two weekend powerplay tallies, the Cougars couldn’t find their footing fast enough to stem the flood of goals from their fired-up opponents, who responded with three goals of their own before the first half of the second period drew to a close. The Cougars would ultimately fall 7-4 in their first of Friday’s two contests. Friday evening’s game found the Cougars spending less time in the box, but it was all hands on deck as they sought to keep the Metro Jets, arguably their fiercest opponent at the showcase, at bay. While the Cougars’ only goal of the game came in the second half of the third period off another powerplay tally from Haas, the story of the night for fans back home in Chicago was definitely rookie goaltender Ian Young, who allowed just three goals on 40 shots. “Facing 40 shots...is easier than lower shot games. It’s easier to stay in the game mentally when you see action constantly [as opposed to] a game where shots are few and far between,” Young reasons and adds that, though he kept the Jets scoreless in the first frame, a “brief adjustment” was necessary to account for the change in pace since his first start of the season last weekend against the Dells Ducks. The team closed out the Detroit Showcase Saturday morning with another tough loss, this time to the Pittsburgh Vengeance. While Michael Lenhart and the rest of the Cougars worked together to keep the Vengeance off the board until the third period, their efforts weren’t enough -- and pulling the Lenhart with just under a minute left in regulation ultimately proved unsuccessful as the Cougars dropped the final game of the weekend 2-1. Heading into this upcoming weekend’s series against Motor City, both Young and assistant coach Schwarz emphasize the importance of players focusing on improving their mental game. “We tend to ride a rollercoaster of emotions,” says Young, “but [coaches Dallmann and Schwarz] have really been emphasizing that we need to have a mindset where we can be levelheaded through the ups and downs of the game.” The Cougars will head to Detroit next weekend to take on Motor City Hockey Club October 9th at 6 PM CDT and October 10th at 3 PM CDT.
After securing two huge wins on the road against the Dells Ducks to close out the month of September, the Chicago Cougars will be heading out east to Michigan for the annual Detroit Showcase, where they’ll square off against four non-divisional opponents in just three short days. It’s important for both players and fans alike to temper expectations heading into the showcase after opening the season in a dramatic fashion over the Ducks. Each of the four teams the Cougars will face in the showcase have established a winning record so far this season, and it’s unlikely the Cougars will dominate any of them in the same fashion as the Ducks. “[The players] can’t just rest on having one good weekend,” says head coach Josh Dallmann when asked how he intends to carry the momentum of the season’s start into the showcase. “They need to find it in themselves -- you know, get up for big games and show up when the team needs them.” There’s no doubt that the Cougars showed up last weekend, both on the scoresheet and off of it -- but a showcase like this weekend’s presents a unique set of opportunities and obstacles, as players are getting to compete against teams outside the Midwest East. “This is probably the first time that the guys are going to get a chance to really make a name for themselves this year,” Dallmann says. “This will be a good chance for everybody to get on some radars as players to watch for the rest of the season.” Fans likely already know which Cougars to keep their eye on, but what should you be on the lookout for from this weekend’s opponents? The Cougars’ first match-up of the weekend comes on Thursday night against the Lake Erie Bighorns, who have already earned a 4-1 win in their only game of the season last Sunday. The team finished in the middle of the standings in the Great Lakes division last season, but have a handful of new players to look out for -- including winger Zack Kent, a rookie who tallied a goal and two assists in his first ever junior outing. Friday sees two opponents: a matinee match-up against the Toledo Cherokee and an evening showing against the Metro Jets. While the Cherokee had a better 2019-20 record than the Bighorns, there’s no guarantee that their past successes will translate on the ice this weekend. That being said, they’ve already secured two wins over their own divisional rivals in the Columbus Mavericks, led by a monumental effort (5 G and 2 A) from returning forward Ondrej Dupal. Friday evening’s opponent will arguably be one of the best tests for the Cougars, as they square off against last season’s Great Lakes division champions in the Metro Jets. While their appearance at this weekend’s showcase will mark the first outing of the season for the Jets, the team will have the home ice advantage as the tournament’s hosts. The showcase will wrap up for the Cougars on Saturday morning when they square off against the Pittsburgh Vengeance, a middle-finishing team boasting significant offensive firepower. Though their offensive corps is heavy with talent, returning forward Luke Kirk will be the one to keep your eye on as the Cougars finish out the showcase.
No hockey team approaches their season opener expecting to win the series by a combined score of 20-1, regardless of their opponent’s finish in the previous season’s standings. In a league like the USPHL, where many teams undergo major roster overhauls between seasons due to players aging out, those expectations are tempered even further. Nevertheless, a 20-1 series win was exactly what was in the cards for the 2020-21 Cougars when they left West Dundee this past Friday to square off against the non-divisional Dells Ducks. “It’s not going to be a normal thing that happens,” warns Cougars head coach Josh Dallmann. “For some reason, things just started to go in the net for us.” That being said, there’s nothing that isn’t impressive about 13 different players finding the back of the net in the span of two games. The scoresheet was filled with the usual suspects on both Friday and Saturday: the Cougars’ leading scorer from 2019-20, Jozef Martancik, registered his first hat trick of the season on Friday night and finished off the weekend with seven points. Right behind him was former Duck Jason Heard, who contributed a goal both Friday and Saturday and added a pair of an assists for a four-point series. Even defenseman Adam Brimie had an offense-heavy outing, with a powerplay goal to open the second period on Friday and a handful of apples to finish the weekend off. For a handful of the Cougars, though, donning the green, white, and gold on Friday and Saturday was even more special. Forward Brendan Miranda suited up for his first ever junior hockey game on Friday after spending the last two seasons of his career with the Joliet Jaguars 16U program. He wasn’t expecting to make it on the board this weekend, and would have been happy just to get back out on the ice with a new team. If there’s one persistent theme of the Cougars’ opening weekend, though, it’s exceeding expectations -- and Miranda went above and beyond even his own wildest dreams, scoring two goals on Saturday to help the Cougars close out the game 9-1 over the Ducks. We asked Miranda what it felt like to get that first career tally in a brand new league with brand new teammates, and his reply was succinct, but nonetheless accurate: “It felt great.” Of course, Miranda wasn’t the only rookie to get on the scoresheet this weekend -- teammates Mike Sliwinski, Braden Luehring, Kevin Uhlir, and Mason Perri all scored big goals this weekend that helped buoy the Cougars to such high-scoring heights over their opponents. While the offense-heavy caliber of play we witnessed from the Cougars this weekend may not be the norm moving forward, there’s one strength that both coach Dallmann, assistant coach Johnny Schwarz, and Miranda all credit with contributing to the team’s success this past weekend. “We have great chemistry already,” emphasizes Miranda. “We really started to form a team this weekend,” Dallmann adds. “Guys are cheering each other on. And it’s not just about scoring goals, it’s about trying to play good hockey.”
The start of the hockey season is always highly anticipated for hockey players, coaches, and fans alike, and this year, even with the added obstacle of the COVID-19 pandemic, is no different. After finishing the abbreviated 2019-20 season at the top of their division with a dominant 35 wins, the Chicago Cougars are ready to get back onto the ice and carry their momentum and their winning mentality into this year. The installment of head coach Josh Dallman and the return of the team’s leading scorer in Jozef Martancik means that the Cougars are already off to a promising start for the 2020-21 season even before the first puck drop -- and when you combine those factors with the addition of goaltender Ian Young from Colorado and former Dells Ducks’ leading scorer Jason Heard, the team is shaping up to be a formidable opponent both in the Midwest East and throughout all of the USPHL. “I just want us to be the hardest working team in our division,” Dallmann says of the crew he’s spent the offseason working to recruit with assistant coach Johnny Schwarz. “I think if we do that, then the wins will follow.” The uncertainty of the offseason means that the return of regular season games is more eagerly awaited than ever. “We had a six month pause where the whole world stopped,” says Jozef Martancik, who led the team with 86 points over 36 games last season and was stunned by the league’s abrupt cancellation of the playoffs. “We’re excited to be here. Everyone’s excited to be back on the ice.” The Cougars are poised to open their season on September 25th and 26th, when the team heads north to Wisconsin to square off against the Dells Ducks. While the Ducks did finish next to last in their division this past season, both coaches and players intend to tackle the team as they would any opponent -- hungry for a win, and determined to do whatever it takes to defend their division title.