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Cowen making big strides toward biggest goal

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Jared Cowen is making the most of his final season of junior hockey with the Spokane Chiefs but he's already anxiously looking forward to starting his pro hockey career in the fall. The Senators plan to give him every chance to open the 2011-12 season in Ottawa (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

The disappointment, Jared Cowen will tell you, subsided quite quickly.

Rather, the big blueliner from the Prairies took a more beneficial approach to hearing the news that he wouldn't be spending this season with the Ottawa Senators.

Even if it meant his National Hockey League dream was put on hold for another year.

"It didn't really bother me too much," said Cowen, who instead spent a fourth campaign with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League. "You can't be mad when you get cut from an NHL team. I was disappointed. I think I could have stayed there ... but I accepted it after awhile.

"People kept asking me if I was happy to be here (in Spokane) and yeah, I'm happy to be here. It's my fourth year here and I haven't had a disappointing year yet, including this one so far. So I don't see why I wouldn't be happy to come back here."

The 20-year-old Cowen is surely making the most of his last days in junior hockey. He's already established career highs in goals (18), assists (29) and points (47) and the team he captains is among the top Memorial Cup contenders in the WHL. If the Chiefs make it to that tournament in Mississauga, Ont., the 6-5, 220-pound Cowen will no doubt have a big hand in getting them there.

All the while, he's trying to hone the kind of game he'll need when he makes it to Ottawa.

"I'm playing a big role like I have every other year here," he said from Spokane, a vibrant city nestled in the plains of eastern Washington. "I think it fits in well with me playing the game I want to play when I get to pro (hockey). That's the hardest part, trying to play exactly the way you want to play when ... for me, it's either Ottawa or Binghamton next season. For me, it's always about being consistent.

"I've been more offensive this year, which is good to see. I don't want to be a one-dimensional player, so it's good to see I can contribute at both ends of the ice."

The return to Spokane also gave Cowen the chance to play in the first outdoor game in WHL history — the Chiefs routed the Kootenay Ice 11-2 on Jan. 15 before 7,075 fans at Avista Stadium, the home of baseball's Spokane Indians — and a second shot at wearing Team Canada's colours at the world junior hockey championships. It appeared to be a golden moment but a huge rally by Russia in the third period spoiled the party in Buffalo.

"You can't be mad when you get cut from an NHL team. I was disappointed. I think I could have stayed there ... but I accepted it after awhile. People kept asking me if I was happy to be here (in Spokane) and yeah, I'm happy to be here. It's my fourth year here and I haven't had a disappointing year yet, including this one so far. So I don't see why I wouldn't be happy to come back here." - Jared Cowen
"We had a really good group of guys ... it was really a fun time to be around those people," said Cowen. "I think we had a gold-medal team — I don't care what anyone says — but that's how it goes sometimes. I'm really glad I played well and performed under pressure well. I really look back at it as a great time and a great experience."

Soon enough, his focus will turn toward beginning his pro hockey career, be it with the Senators or their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. Of course, Cowen would like it to be with the big club, but the organization is already deep in blueliners and Swedish prospect David Rundblad is expected to contend for a spot as well.

"We're going to give him every opportunity to make the team, but it's going to be up to him to come in and (earn it)," said Tim Murray, the Senators' assistant general manager. "I have no doubt he's going to have a big summer and no doubt he's going to come in and push some of these veteran guys for a job.

"He's probably going to have to be very good in camp because right now, we've got six guys under (NHL) contracts. But that can change, too."

While Cowen likes the sound of the Senators' commitment to a more youthful future, he admits it doesn't really change his mindset going into next season.

"Regardless of what's happening there, I'd still be playing for a spot (in Ottawa) no matter what," he said. "So it doesn't really matter if they're going young or not. Now that they are, it is a little bit more encouraging. I'm not really sure what their plans are in particular for acquiring more players or for me in particular.

"We'll see what goes on in training camp next year, but I think I have a pretty good chance of getting a good look now. It's pretty exciting."

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