A new hockey organization has found its way to Chicago. The Chicago Cougars will call the Windy City its home for the 2015-2016 season and hopefully long into the future. The Cougars are a tier three junior hockey team that will compete in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). The USPHL is America’s largest junior hockey league for players ages 16-20 years old that aims to further develop players’ skill and character while helping them establish a successful future on and off the ice.
The Cougars are one of 12 teams that make up the Western Conference of the Mid-west division in the USPHL. The team is looking to make an immediate impact on the league in its first season. Owner John Schwarz, an Illinois native, will enjoy his brand new product on the ice at the Sears Centre, located in Hoffman Estates, after exhaustive efforts put forth this offseason by him and his staff of building this franchise from the ground up.
Starting a franchise fresh in a new city, however, is not always an easy task. One of the most important positions to fill on a new team is the head coach and general manager. After a long process, Schwarz and the Cougars were pleased to hire Brad Stoffers to fill both positions, which is not an uncommon occurrence. Stoffers brings an impressive resume to the table that ownership believes can help guide his players in the right direction. With nine years of coaching experience, a master’s degree in education, and as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, the Cougars believe to have the right man for the positions of head coach and general manger.
Stoffers is excited to be a part of a new organization with an ownership he feels comfortable with and believes can succeed. The head coach and GM was intrigued by the Cougars.
“It is an opportunity to start a new team,” Stoffers said. “It is impressive to me to put a stamp on something and say I was a part of the first group of that — to build a foundation that will grow well into the future.”
The next step for the Cougars is to fill an empty roster. Skill alone is not enough to make this team; Schwarz and Stoffers want to establish a team culture that promotes hard work, strong personalities, and most importantly, intelligence. The goal for junior hockey organizations such as the Chicago Cougars is to guide players to the next level.
Schwarz said, “Our goal for this team is to have every player that wants to play college next year, be 100 percent on a college roster.”
He went on to explain that he is not necessarily focused on wins or losses. “I don’t care how many games we win or lose. My barometer is strictly how much money we can save the kids and them playing in college.”
At the same time, the Cougars would like to be a team that excels on the ice. As the head coach, Stoffers certainly cares about wins and losses. For the Cougars to be competitive this season, the entire staff worked tirelessly recruiting for 2015-2016. It was a process that had the group searching from coast to coast and even North of the border. The Cougars had an idea of who they wanted to represent the organization and with its high standards the roster was not filled overnight. Stoffers puts character and work ethic at the top of the list for any player competing for a spot on the Cougars’ roster.
The foundation of the first ever Chicago Cougars team is headlined by several players coming from various AAA hockey organizations, other junior hockey franchises including the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) in Canada, as well as talent from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). This roster will be composed of players from different backgrounds who have played with coaches with a variety of coaching styles. Stoffers plans to establish a relationship with players where they feel they can come to him for anything, whether it is on-or-off-ice situations.
The Boston University graduate considers himself a- “player’s coach-” as well as a mentor and teacher of the game, which can help ease some stress felt by individuals who may be pushing themselves too hard.
“I wouldn’t say I’m in your face necessarily. There are times I might be, but each individual is different — how you deal with them once you know your team, but for the most part I’m more of a teacher/mentor.”
Like owner Schwarz, Stoffers targets his goals towards helping his players succeed now and into the future.
“Get the right kids in to build a foundation, develop the kids the right way, and move them on to where they want to be,” Stoffers said. “We want to have a competitive team, but at the same point we want to teach kids how to present themselves, how to be better people, develop them on the ice as hockey players, and then advance them to opportunity at the college level or to a higher level of Junior hockey.”
Exhibition games will begin in a matter of days for the Cougars and the season will officially begin on September 11 in St. Louis against the Storm. The Cougars’ home opener will be on Oct. 2 against the Decatur Blaze.