Cougars Continue Road Trip in Calgary
The lengthy stretch of road activity continues tonight for the Prince George Cougars who are continuing a stretch where after tonight they will have played eight of their past 11 games on the road. While the Cougars home record has been lights out, they are still trying to find some consistency on the road, as they have put together a 2-5-1-0 road record away from the CN Centre. Tonight the Cougars look to avenge a tough loss in Kamloops Sunday when they take the ice for a nationally televised matchup against the Calgary Hitmen.
Mark French’s Calgary Hitmen are coming into today’s game with an overall record of 11-10-1-0 through 22 games. Their 23 points has them ranked third in the Central Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference. They are on a two game winning streak and are 5-5 in their past 10 games altogether. In two meetings this season against the Cougars the Hitmen are 0-2 having dropped two meetings against the Cougars at CN Centre back in October. Last season the Hitmen were 1-2 against the Cougars and were 1-1 against them at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Who’s Up Front:
Since joining the Calgary Hitmen after a trade from the Vancouver Giants, 20-year-old forward Jackson Houck has fit right into the Calgary lineup. In eight games with Calgary, Houck has registered four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. Last weekend against Tri-City, Houck picked up four assists in a victory over the Americans, and he has picked up at least a point in seven of his first eight games in a Calgary uniform. In 30 career games for Houck against the Prince George Cougars he has scored 15 goals and added 13 assists for 28 total points.
Who’s on D:
Though he is listed as ‘day-to-day’ with an upper body injury, Calgary Hitmen defenceman Travis Sanheim is off to an incredible start in 2015-16. He’s missed the past two games, but still finds himself tied with three others (Joe Hicketts, Andrew Nielsen, and Ethan Bear) for top scoring defenceman in the WHL with 22 points (six of which are goals). Sanheim plays a TON in all situations, and could very well be a mainstay on Canada’s blueline once the World Junior tournament begins. The Cougars need to assume that Sanheim will be good to go tonight, and if so, they’ll see a steady diet of him for sure.
Who’s in Goal:
Since joining the Calgary Hitmen after a trade with the Vancouver Giants, 18-year-old netminder Cody Porter has taken over the reigns as starting goaltender for his new team. In six games, Porter is 4-2 with a 3.03 goals-against-average and an .868 save percentage. He’s no stranger to the Cougars having faced them five times last season with the Giants. He went 2-3 against the Cougars with an .899 save percentage and a 3.37 goals-against-average.
Since returning to the Hitmen from the American Hockey League, 6’6″, 256 pound Keegan Kanzig has made a ‘huge’ difference, literally to the Calgary Hitmen’s back-end. A defense-corps that was already loaded with talent became even tougher to play against when Kanzig came back, and in his first three games back he’s a +4 with eight penalty minutes. He won’t wow you offensively, but he’s one of those players who can intimidate with the best of them. It’s awfully difficult to win puck battles with Kanzig down low, and without a doubt his experience at the pro level will translate well back in junior. The Cougars can’t afford to back down from Kanzig, otherwise it could be a very easy night for the Hitmen defensively.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Despite Sunday’s disappointing result the Prince George Cougars have a lot to feel good about. They’re record is 10-8-1-0 and they’ve still managed to record points in eight of their last 12 games altogether. Three of those four losses have come againset the same team: Kamloops. On the season the Cougars are 5-0 against Central Division opponents and are 2-0 against the Calgary Hitmen. The road struggles are a concern though for the Cougars who have only posted two victories away from home in seven tries. Their 21 points currently has them ranked third in the B.C. Division and sixth in the Western Conference standings – An identical situation to their opponents tonight.
Who’s Up Front:
There’s been a lot of talk this season about the consistency of Jesse Gabrielle and for obvious reasons, but the argument could certainly be made that a lot of Gabrielle’s success goes hand in hand with the strong play of rookie forward Brogan O’Brien. The 18-year-old Prince George native is second on the team in both goals (8) and points (16). He’s earned points in six of his last seven games and over that span he has four goals and five assists. With O’Brien it’s all about work ethic. He competes hard in all areas, and earns every ounce of success that he receives. NHL scouts are surely taking notice. A big game from O’Brien and Gabrielle will be important tonight for the Cougars in Calgary.
Who’s on D:
So far this season it’s been feast or famine for the Cougars defensively. When they’re at their best, they are extremely difficult to score on. In all 10 of their victories this season, the Cougars can credit strong defensive play for helping them along. The numbers don’t lie. In 12 of their first 19 games, the Cougars have held their opponent to three goals or less. It’s no coincidence that they’ve win 10 of those 12 games, and have earned points in 11 of them. When the Cougars allow four goals or more? They are 0-7. Tonight it doesn’t fall on the shoulders of one player. There needs to be strong defensive buy-in from all six skaters on the back-end. They’ve done it before against the Hitmen and should feel good about their chances of doing again here tonight.
Who’s in Goal:
Nick McBride’s terrific start to his Prince George Cougars career took it’s first bump in the road Sunday in Kamloops. Granted he had little to no help, but he was removed from Sunday’s game early in the second period after surrendering four goals in 14 shots faced. It was more of a mercy hook than anything, as the Cougars made it quite clear from the beginning that they weren’t going to make life easy on their goaltenders that day. But McBride had two great showings earlier in the week, and after a few days of rest and some good days of practice, he should be all systems go for his third straight start tonight in Calgary. On the season, McBride is 2-1 with a .904 save percentage and a 2.67 goals-against-average.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Cougars road struggles to start their season has been their special teams. The Cougars power play has registered just one goal on 28 opportunities away from home. On the other hand, their home power play is clicking at over 20 percent, which means that they have all of the capabilities, but just haven’t been able to convert on their power play chances. It is going to be especially important tonight in a tough building against a very strong defensive team that the Prince George Cougars find a way to make their power plays count. If they do that, they are going to give themselves an excellent chance to win.