Jared Cowen isn’t the happiest Spokane Chief right now, but a big dose of the Portland Winterhawks should fix that.
Portland, which knocked out the Chiefs in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs last spring by winning all four games in Spokane in the best-of-7 series, returns to the Arena for games tonight and Saturday.
That’s when Cowen makes his home debut after being the last cut of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
“It’s obviously a disappointing decision,” said Cowen, who was informed of the decision Saturday night and was with the Chiefs for a game at Chilliwack on Tuesday. “I thought I could have stayed there and done well. They thought I couldn’t get enough minutes to develop me right.
“Coming back here is really tough. I have to learn to play to the best of my capabilities every night, not settle for being just OK but being great.”
That’s why Portland is the perfect foil.
“It’s a good team to play for me, because I know there will be a lot of intensity,” Cowen said. “It will be easier to play, better for me to get back in there and do well instead of just average.”
His teammates understand but can’t help but be glad to see the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder on defense.
“Cowen obviously wanted to play in the NHL this year, it’s no secret,” forward Tyler Johnson said. “If anyone else was in his position, they’d feel the exact same day. He’s a good guy so I know he’s going to bounce back. It’s just going to be better for our team, because we have Cowen on the blue line.”
Johnson was named captain last week to great fanfare but the “C” was returned to Cowen and Johnson has an “A” on his jersey as an alternate.
“He was captain last year,” Johnson said. “It’s good for our team to have him back. He’s a great player and a great leader. It doesn’t really matter to me if I have a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ or anything. I’m just going to be the same player. … I always see myself as a leader. I don’t need to be recognized as one to be one. I’m still going to do the exact same thing I was doing before. It’s not going to change anything in my game or my mentality.”
After an initial bout with nerves, Cowen, the Senators’ 2009 first-round pick, said he felt comfortable in the Ottawa lineup during exhibition season.
“At times it’s easier to play there because there are better players and they make your job easy, because they’re always in the right spot,” he said. “They can pinpoint passes and shoot the puck.”
There is also a different feeling.
“When you get there, it’s a little step closer to being a job,” he said. “Here there are 16-year-old boys compared to some are almost 40 there. It’s a big difference. You can have a little fun more here at times.”
After the Winterhawks eliminated the Chiefs last year, the Senators called up Cowen and he got into one game. Most of the time was spent skating under the supervision of their minor league coach – Don Nachbaur.
Unlike Cowen, Nachbaur elected to return to junior hockey for family reasons and Cowen believes that’s good for the Chiefs.
“I knew he was good structurally, teaches the young guys what they need to learn,” Cowen said. “It was a good decision by Tim (Speltz, general manager).”
Now it is time for him to get ready for next season, which is a big boost for the Chiefs this season.
“Ottawa just said it would be nice to come back here, get the minutes, play in every situation, where I wouldn’t back there,” Cowen said. “I know what they want me to do here.”