Cougars Versus Rockets Scene Setter
The first five games of the Prince George Cougars season have been anything but easy, and after a 2-3 start to their season, business is about to pick up even more so. Tonight, for the first time this season the Prince George Cougars will face a B.C. Division opponent: The 2014-15 League Champions, the Kelowna Rockets. These teams are about to get very acquainted with one another as tonight’s game marks the first of four meetings between these two teams between now and October 30th. There’s always something a little extra on the line when the defending champs are in town, and you can bet that the Cougars are going to be
ready for the task at hand.
Brad Ralph’s Kelowna Rockets have already played nine games this season. The defending champs are off to a 6-3 start and their record currently has them ranked second in the B.C. Division behind the Victoria Royals.
Kelowna is coming off a 5-4 victory on home ice earlier this week against Red Deer and away from home they’ve managed to put together a 4-2 record. They are a team that relies on depth and structure and last season they were 4-0 against the Cougars at CN Centre. It’s still early, but the Rockets have served notice to the league and the B.C. Division that they still mean business.
Who’s Up Front:
20-year-old forward Tyson Baillie currently leads the Kelowna Rockets in both goals (7) and points (14) through nine games. The pride of Fort Saskatchewan, AB is coming off a 76 point season and has 229 career points in 268 career regular season games in the WHL. In 26 career games against Prince George, Baillie has amassed 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 career points. Keeping Baillie in check will be a top priority for the Cougars defensively.
Who’s on D:
Defensively the Kelowna Rockets are in a bit of a transition phase. Gone are the stalwarts of last season: Madison Bowey, Josh Morrissey and Cole Martin, but over the years the Rockets have churned out some of the premier defensemen in the entire league, and there’s boat loads of promise still patrolling the back end in Kelowna this season. 18-year-old Lucas Johansen is tied for the team lead in points for defencemen with 5, and he’s a +3. Last season as a rookie he dressed in
65 games and was a +20 with eight points. Johansen has already made the most of his increased ice time and opportunity and no doubt he’ll get a ton of action alongside Buffalo Sabres prospect Devante Stephens against
the Cougars top offensive threats.
Who’s in Goal:
20-year-old Jackson Whistle and 19-year-old Michael Herringer form a terrific 1-2 tandem in the WHL. So far this season, Whistle is 5-1 with a 3.44 goals-against-average and a .905 save percentage. In 12 career appearances against Prince George, Whistle has compiled a 9-2 record and has averaged a 1.61 goals-against-average and a .940 save percentage. You can definitely expect Whistle to start at least one of the games this weekend. Herringer is equally capable as well but his record so far is 1-2 with a 4.50 goals-against-average and a .875 save percentage. Regardless of who starts for Kelowna, the Cougars will need to do all they can to generate traffic at the net front, and make life as difficult as possible for the opposing netminder.
Depth. The Kelowna Rockets take enormous pride in being able to roll their lines at will. Yes Tyson Baillie is their main sniper, but others like Tomas Soutal, Nick Merkley, Rourke Chartier (who may miss tonight’s game with an injury), Dillon Dube, Justin Kirkland and Calvin Thurkauf provide a steady and dangerous attack. Through nine games the Rockets have averaged 4.3 goals per game, which is easily the highest in the Western Conference and is also the highest total in the entire WHL. This team can score in waves, and the Cougars will need to be mindful of that this evening and this weekend.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars are 2-3 on the young season and are coming off a terrific effort last Saturday against the Tri-City Americans which resulted in a 4-1 victory. The Cougars were rewarded justly for a strong effort, and after struggling to score on Friday, the Cougars ended their weekend on a high note. This week it’s been all business for the Cougars as they’ve been hard at work since Monday shoring up all areas of their game in preparation for a clash with the
champs. The Cougars are well aware of the fact that if they are to climb the standings and be a B.C. Division contender this season, it starts with winning more games against divisional opponents, the Rockets
Who’s Up Front:
The offensive hero from last Saturday was Prince George Cougars 18-year-old forward Brad Morrison. The New York Rangers prospect broke out in a big way with two goals, an assist and a fight to complete his Gordie Howe Hat Trick. Morrison is the type of player who can take over a game with his skill and hopefully Saturday’s success is a sign of things to come. The Cougars can score with the best of them in the WHL and hopefully tonight the Cougars big guns can be their best players. If so, they’re going to have a great chance to win.
Who’s on D:
Not only did the Cougars break out offensively last Saturday against Tri-City but it also may have been the Cougars best defensive effort of the season to this point. By their count, the Cougars held the Ams to less than 20 shots against, and when they were tested Ty Edmonds was there to make key saves. Defensively the Cougars answered the bell physically, and protected their zone with confidence. Tonight they’re going up against the top ranked offense in the WHL and will need to be at their best. Offensively the Cougars will also need to lean on Tate Olson who leads all Cougars with six points through the first five games of the season. Defense is a big key this weekend for the Cougars, and you can bet that they’ll be up for the challenge.
Who’s in Goal:
Through five games this season, goaltending has been a major source of strength for this team. The tandem of Ty Edmonds and Mack Shields have provided some strong stability between the pipes for Prince George and this weekend will prove to be their toughest test yet. Ty Edmonds is 1-2 on the season and is coming off a victory against the Ams last weekend. On the season his goals-against-average is 2.00 and his save percentage is .935. This weekend could very well ultimately come down to goaltending, and hopefully Ty is ready for the task at hand tonight. Last season he won two games in Kelowna and was named the first star in both of those contests. It might take a similar outing tonight to help
the Cougars back to the .500 mark.
The Prince George Cougars proved last season that they can hang with the Rockets and defeat the Rockets. There’s a big difference between ‘respecting’ your opponent and ‘standing in awe’ of your opponent. Tonight the Cougars need to dictate the pace of the game. They can’t afford to sit back and let the Rockets bring the attack to them. From the drop of the puck the Cougars need to defend their home turf by any means necessary. Whether it’s a big save, big hit or an early goal – A strong start is of essence tonight for the Cougars at home. If the Cougars play to their strengths and battle for the full duration of the game, they’re going to give themselves every plausible opportunity to come out on top.