By Isaiah Bouchard
THE TRUE NORTH CAN’T BE OVERLOOKED: A LOOK AT THE PRINCE GEORGE COUGAR’S DYNAMIC DUO OF RILEY HEIDT AND KOEHN ZIEMMER.
Riley Heidt and Koehn Ziemmer of the Prince George Cougars find themselves both in a unique situation of representing an area of the hockey world that is a bit off the beaten path. Both are exciting to watch forwards, with unique attributes and play styles on the ice and should be near the top of all NHL draft lists come June 2023.
Riley Heidt is from Gordie Howe’s hometown of Saskatoon Saskatchewan, where he could remember playing hockey from early on in his childhood.
“I think I was around that 3 to 5 range, but I was there. My dad built an outdoor rink for me and my brother. So it was just passing the puck around with my dad and my brother was probably the first moment that I realized that I liked the sport and I couldn’t get off the ice.” said Heidt.
Similar to Heidt, Koehn Ziemmer grew up in rural Alberta, where some of his earliest memories came from playing hockey with his family.
“I grew up in Mayerthorpe, Alberta. Small town just outside of Edmonton. Spent a lot of time in the car for hockey.” When asked about his earliest hockey memories Ziemmer replied: “I was at a really young age and I had a lot of cousins who played hockey so the competitiveness was there. I remember growing up with them and starting to really love it.” noted Ziemmer.
When asked about their favourite teams growing up Ziemmer and Heidt had similar responses. “I never really had a favourite team honestly. I’ve always been a big Crosby fan so I liked watching Pittsburgh play because of Crosby.” Heidt said when asked about his favourite team growing up. Ziemmer responded similarly, stating Crosby was his guy from a very young age.
The favourite players of our childhood do a lot on how we perceive and idealize hockey both on screen and on the ice. For these players, the latter became a much more significant reality for them.
When asked if Crosby was a player they emulated when working on their game, Heidt had this to say: “Yeah for sure I think he’s always been my guy, but now that I’m getting older I like Kucherov a lot too and Tampa Bay, I think we play similar too, and I try to watch a lot of videos of both those guys and I try to take little things from each of their games and I think I’m not even close to being there yet but I want to keep pushing and get there.”
When asked about what players he emulates, Ziemmer had a much more short and sweet answer for us. “Mark Scheifele. Big power forward.” Koehn Ziemmer has quickly built up his reputation as a train of a player who has no problem working in deep the offensive zone. When asked about his playstyle, Ziemmer said that he believed his physically was the most under appreciated aspect to his game. “I throw hits every game.” Ziemmer added when asked about his under apricated skill.
“He uses his body well to shield and protect the puck when he has it.” Matt Hnatiuk, DraftPro’s head scout, had a few words on Ziemmer’s physicality.
When asked about what he gets the most praise for from his teammates and coaches, Ziemmer replied with: “I think my hands and my shooting ability. I think also my ability to find the back of the net. I’ve been working on my hands for a long time, and my shot….”
Matt Hnatiuk had plenty of notes on Ziemmer to give us: “Koehn is a nice complimentary winger who has good offensive instincts, and likes to get pucks to the middle of the ice for high quality chances… He has a strong shot that he will let go from anywhere in tight and he can hit the net frequently from within the circles.” Hnatiuk also had this to say in regard to Ziemmer’s role as a Cougar player as a whole: “He’s playing in a market that is way out there (distance wise) and one that doesn’t get as much recognition for their player development as they should. Koehn should grow a lot this season as a player and create a buzz about another Cougars’ player getting drafted to the NHL.”
As for Riley Heidt, DraftPro’s No. 12 ranked player at the start of the season, he found his shooting ability to be an overlooked part of his game.
“Honestly I think just my scoring ability. I don’t shoot often, I think my percentage of shooting is very low but I think when I do shoot, I score. So I think if I put that in my game while still setting up guys, that will make people see, that I can also score goals.”
When asked to shed some light on what his coaches and teammates praise him for, Heidt said “I think my ability to set up my teammates is something I do well. And I’ve always liked seeing guys succeed, I’ve always found an assist better than a goal sometimes. Just being able to set up a guy and see him be happy to score a goal I think is just… something I’ve always took pride in and make the right plays is something I do well.”
Matt Hnatiuk had this to say about Riley Heidt: “Riley is an offensive minded player at most aspects of his game. He likes to be the leading edge of the rush and if he can’t be that he’s not far behind driving for open ice in the attack. He has excellent o-zone vision and awareness where he is able to read where the puck and play are moving, and he adjusts his approach to the play accordingly.”
A conversation was also had with Heidt about his elite skating. Heidt admitted his edge work was a common piece of praise from his coaches, and Matt Hnatiuk had this to say in regard to Heidt’s skating: “His speed is something he uses wisely and he adjusts his pace of attack according to what he sees in front of him. When he needs to use it, his extra gear is always in reserve and ready to go.”
Many players have pre-game rituals they perform before, after, or before and after a game. Heidt and Ziemmer had very different responses to this topic. When asked, Ziemmer said this: “Not really, usually just grab a coffee and go to the rink two hours before. Get a warm up in, do our video, get dressed, and get ready to go.” In an attempt to pick Ziemmer’s brain about any superstitious hockey beliefs, Ziemmer replied with a simple “Not really.”
Heidt on the other hand had a lot more to say about his practices before and after the game: “I don’t like to be superstitious, but I am sometimes, I just cant get away from it. I don’t do too much stuff before a game around the rink, I try to stay away from that stuff. But on a game day I’ll get up around the same time you know. And if I have a good game I’ll eat the same thing the next day.”
“I’m pretty basic but I do have little things that nobody will understand, I don’t want to say out here…” Heidt said after a few more questions. (Much of the interview for this article was done with Heidt, Ziemmer and Chase Wheatcroft together)
The jokes and looks given to one another made things clear that the question was a sticky one for some members of the Cougar’s locker room. Heidt went on: “But if something doesn’t go my way before a game, I’m not going to let it effect my game. But I like to do the same stuff if I can.”
Aside from the rituals or lack of rituals before games, both Heidt and Ziemmer share similar hobbies and past times when their not playing hockey. When asked about his favourite hobbies/sports outside of hockey.
“I like to golf lots in the summer, that’s one of the big things I’ve been doing these last years. And getting out to the lake a little bit, and fish with the family, I’m a pretty big fishermen. I also like to hunt but I haven’t been able to do that as much because it’s more of a winter thing.” Heidt said.
When asked if he knew of any good fishing spots here in Prince George, Heidt replied with: “You’ll have to ask my dad, we haven’t done much out here yet. But I’ve been hoping to really get it out here for sure.” This could have been a genuine answer, or perhaps like all good fishermen Heidt is keeping the good spots to himself, further questions are needed.
When asking Ziemmer he replied with: “I grew up on a farm, so farming is always a big passion of mine. And hunting and fishing.” When asked where he hunted he replied with: “I haven’t been around here, but around home, just around the house we go out.”
Hockey is a very mentally straining sport, you play more games than most other sports, and you are required to have the mental capacity to keep up with a pace that is faster than most sports as well. On top of that hockey is a sport where the most skilled players don’t always break their point goals, thanks to there being a multitude of factors. “I just got to let my skill take over and trust my ability and try not to focus too much on points. Because I think when I do that I get away from my game.” Heidt said in response to how he perceives the grind of hockey.
When asked what drives them to compete harder on certain nights. Again the two gave different answers. To roll back to his earlier days playing with competitive cousins, Ziemmer said: “I just think I’m a really competitive player. I hate to lose so it’s what really motivates me to do my best, knowing that I have a chance to lose.”
Heidt replied with similar words, saying: “I think every hockey player plays especially like they want to win.” But Heidt made sure to include the importance of teammates and locker room morale. “Just doing it for your teammates… I think playing for your teammate, for the guy beside you, is the most important thing. I think winning isn’t all of it, but when you’re winning, everyone’s happy, and its good times.”
These questions naturally led to a discussion on losing streaks, poor performances both individually and as well as from the entire team. When asked on how he deals with disappointing performances Ziemmer replied with: “I’m pretty hard on myself, obviously, but I just try to forget about it, the days over, the game is over. So lets just push onto the next one.”
For Heidt, the question of rituals and superstitions came back, when asked, it was with this pre-context in mind. “Yeah for sure, for sure. I’ll switch things up… last year though I think we were on a five game losing streak and the puck just wasn’t bouncing our way. I think I had McDonalds the night before and I was flying and our team won. So I think that was hilarious. I know that isn’t something you could do for the rest of your life, but I tried it, and you know, maybe it had a part to do with it.”
When asked what their favourite aspects about hockey aside from the game itself was Heidt replied with this: “I think all of it, all of it honestly. You just meet so many new people and I’m lucky that there is so many special people that’ve been through it. And just getting to bond with your teammates, you almost become brothers…”
Ziemmer replied with something very similar, saying: “Making the memories with all the guys. We spend a lot of time on the bus here so you get to know them pretty well, they’re like brothers.” After acknowledging the importance of the bonds they made as teammates, Heidt continued: “There’s just so many good things that come out of hockey I think a lot of people got to really look at it. It’s not just the end value of winning itself and playing, I think its also everything you learn from it, I think it’s made me a better person for sure.”
By now it should be clear that Heidt is the more active talker of the two. He’s a team player who finds a lot of value in team chemistry and the bonds in the locker room and on the ice. When asked to give a few words about Heidt, Ziemmer said this: “He’s obviously, as you can see on the ice, a great player. He’s a treat to play with, he’s easy to play with and to talk with, a great guy off the ice.”
And while Ziemmer may be more straight forward in his answers, it’s clear he shares a lot of the same outlooks as Heidt does. But he’s a much more straight forward player, which gives the perception that he’s determined to the game more than many other players.
When asked to give a few words on Ziemmer, Heidt was quick to praise Ziemmer’s skill on the ice, and their chemistry as players: “He’s a great goal scorer as I think anyone can see. I’m just doing my part in passing the puck to him and putting him in areas where he can score. I think that’s obviously my job, and that’s all we got to do to be successful.”
As of right now Riley Heidt and Koehn Ziemmer sit at No. 12 and No. 24 respectively on the DraftPro Preliminary Rankings that were formulated last March. If these players can have the big seasons that their capable of, playing for a strong BC team in Prince George, they will definitely force more scouts to visit this region of the world as a major prospect hub for 2023, but also as a place where more players are willing to go to get noticed.
The #TrueNorth is strong this season, and all eyes are on Riley Heidt and Koehn Ziemmer to become undeniable contenders for the first round in one of the most competitive draft classes we have seen in a long time.
Photo courtesy: Prince George Cougars