Healthy Rogers is a Canadian WJC hopeful

By Aaron Vickers

He’s big and mobile, but most importantly to himself and to the Tampa Bay Lightning, he’s signed.

Fresh out of training camp, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Andy Rogers inked his name to an NHL entry level contract before returning to the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League.

“Signing a contract was a big step for me, so when I came back I was all smiles,” said Rogers, again smiling.

It wasn’t until October 3rd that Rogers was returned to his junior club, as the ink dried on his first professional contract. Rogers earned the contract after an excellent training camp in which he was among the final cuts. The experience of his second NHL camp certainly won’t replace his first, but definitely has him eager for the third.

“It was awesome, an unbelievable experience,” said Rogers. “It was a big deal that I had a good camp and they were very happy with me. Being down there for as long as I did was truly an honor.”

Performing in camp was made easier when surrounded by veterans, offered Rogers. Paired with all-star blueliner Dan Boyle, Rogers said Boyle helped him elevate his play.

“(Boyle) makes everything look so easy so I just kept giving him the puck and that’s that,” he said with a smile.

With a contract in hand and an excellent camp under his back, Rogers returned to the Cougars refreshed and focused on the season at hand.

“It was a big step to get it off my back so I could just focus on the season at hand,” he said.

Despite returning late to the Cougars, the addition of Rogers in Prince George was certainly welcomed. Skating in the top pairing for the club, Rogers, typically averages more minutes on the ice than any other Cougar, skating both a regular shift and spending time on both penalty kills.

Skating in just 13 of the Cougars 27 games this season, the native of Calgary, Alberta has just three assists and is -4 with 41 minutes in penalties. Back since the beginning of October, Rogers has missed a handful of additional games.

Rogers served a one-game suspension for a checking from behind penalty last week, after just returning from an injured ankle, a problem that plagued him much of last season and part of the 2003-04.

“(The ankle) is good,” said Rogers, standing on one foot to demonstrate it can withstand the force of his 206 lbs.

“It’s not quite 100 percent because I hurt it a couple weeks ago so I missed a few games with that. It’s getting better, though.”

It’s the same ankle injury that kept Rogers out of the 2005 Canadian Junior Selection camp held last December. Rogers, who skated in the 2006 Canadian Junior Summer Camp, hopes that he’s healthy and able to compete for a spot.

“It’d definitely be an honor,” he said.

Already on the radar for Team Canada, Rogers has a history with the Canadian program. Rogers represented Canada in the World Under-18 Championships, where he registered three points and 26 minutes in penalties in seven games, as well as an invite to the 2005 Canadian Junior Summer Camp. Rogers hopes that his exposure in these events will help.

“I played a couple Hockey Canada’s before so I hope that’ll help me out,” he said.

Rogers feels that he has a lot to offer to Team Canada. A self-proclaimed defensive defenseman, Rogers feels his skills translate well on international ice, and hopes that Head Coach Brent Sutter sees that in him.

“They’re going to look for a guy who plays strong defense and is physical. I’m not known as a guy who puts a lot of points up on the board so I’ll just stick to my game and do what I do best.”

Rogers confessed that despite his experiences on the international stage with Hockey Canada, by no means is he a lock and is prepared for whatever fate should fall on him.

“It’s a tough team to make,” admitted Rogers, “I’m just trying to play my game and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t, life will go on.”

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