Cougars Look to Make it Seven in a Row
A share of second place in the B.C. Division is well within the sites of the Prince George Cougars who return to action tonight. Tonight in Portland, Oregon the Cougars will take aim at their seventh straight victory and their 19th victory on the season when they clash with the Portland Winterhawks for the third time in the past 11 days. So far so good for the Cougars who have earned back-to-back home victories against the Winterhawks, but as always the road is a different animal, particularly in Portland where the Winterhawks have historically been a very difficult foe. This weekend is bound to be an entertaining one, as familiarity between these two clubs won’t be any issue whatsoever.
Jamie Kompon’s Portland Winterhawks come into tonight’s game with an even record of 14-14-0-0. Their 28 points has them ranked fourth in the US Division and eighth overall in the Western Conference standings. At home they are 7-7 and they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. So far in 2015-16 Portland is 0-2 against the Cougars having dropped two games on back-to-back nights on December 1st and 2nd in Prince George. Last season the Winterhawks and Cougars split their four game series with the road team winning each time.
Who’s Up Front:
Winterhawks captain Dominic Turgeon leads the way offensively for Portland most nights. He leads all Portland forwards in goals (13) and assists (17). In two games against the Cougars so far, Turgeon has recorded a goal and two assists which is tops on the team. The Detroit Red Wings prospect looks like he’s well on his way to eclipsing his previous career high in points, which was 43 a season ago. Turgeon is 6-2″, 203 pounds and he sees the ice extremely well. He can dish the push as good as any forward in the WHL and his shot is hard, quick and deceptive. With the likes of Rodrigo Abols, Paul Bittner and Keegan Iverson (most likely) out of the lineup t his weekend for Portland, a lot of the offensive onus is going to fall onto Turgeon’s shoulders.
Who’s on D:
Defensively the Winterhawks are very deep and well-rounded. It starts with the two American standout blueliners Caleb Jones and Jack Dougherty. Jones is 18 and a draftee of the Edmonton Oilers. Through 28 games Jones has locked up five goals and 18 assists which puts him atop the Winterhawks roster in scoring for defencemen. He’s also a +6 and can handle himself defensively at the other side of the ice. Dougherty is listed a day-to-day on the WHL’s injury report, but assuming he plays he adds another very dynamic component to the Winterhawks back end. At 6’2″ and 196 pounds, the Nashville Predators draftee does a little bit of everything back there for the Winterhawks. He and Caleb Jones will likely see a bulk of the ice time in any and all situations tonight for Portland.
Who’s in Goal:
Arizona Coyotes prospect Adin Hill has appeared in all but three of Portland’s games so far this season. Through 25 appearances, Hill has gone 13-12 with an impressive .915 save percentage and a goals-against-average that sits just above 3.00. He also has three shutouts. So far this season Hill is 0-2 against the Cougars and his save percentage sits at .897 and his goals-against-average is just over 4.00. But numbers don’t always tell the full story. Hill is considered by many to be one of the (if not the absolute) best goaltenders in the WHL. At 6’4″ and 190 pounds, Hill covers a ton of the net and routinely makes life difficult for opposing team’s shooters. The Cougars will have to make sure that they get him moving around a lot, and another big key will be to try and get as much net front traffic in front of him as they possibly can.
This is not that same Winterhawks team from a season or two ago where they could almost defeat teams at will given how much firepower they had In all areas of their roster, but as players have graduated and move onto the pro ranks, the Winterhawks have continually found ways to be competitive and successful this season. A big key tonight for Portland: Get the lead and protect it. The last time these two teams met, the Winterhawks held two separate leads and lost them both. You can bet that the coaching staff is going to be reminding them of that fact tonight with the hopes that history won’t again repeat itself for Portland tonight at home.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars have really found their stride as of late. Over their past 22 games they have only lost five in regulation, and 15 of those last 22 games have been victories. The Cougars have won six straight games altogether, four straight games on the road and they’ve managed to go nine straight games without a regulation loss losing just one point in the standings over the course of that time. On the line tonight: A three game wining streak for the Prince George Cougars against Portland and a two-game road winning streak against Portland on the road. Tonight marks the third of four regular season meetings between these two clubs this season.
Who’s Up Front:
With back-to-back hat tricks, Chase Witala became just the second Cougar since 2002 to score three goals in back-to-back games. The only other to do so: Former Cougars captain Blake Robson. Witala’s 17 goals are now tops on the team and over his past five games he’s scored seven goals and two assists for nine points. Witala’s recent surge has put him on a similar goal-scoring pace to a season ago. Through 29 games last season he had 18 goals, so he’s only one goal off from being in a similar line for 35-plus goals. Heading into tonight Witala is just 15 goals shy the all-time mark for the Prince George Cougars franchise. Can he keep this scoring streak going tonight? You’d better believe he’s going to do everything within his capabilities.
Who’s on D:
Prince George Cougars Captain Sam Ruopp is continuing to play a strong and reliable game at both ends of the ice for the Prince George Cougars. His three goals and eight points might be considered underwhelming, but he’s +14 and so many of his minutes are played against the opposing team’s tops players. He’s coming off a goal and an assist from Tuesday against the Kootenay Ice, and you can bet that Sam Ruopp, a draftee of the Columbus Blue Jackets is going to get the lion’s share of the minutes once again tonight for the Prince George Cougars as they look for their seventh consecutive victory.
Who’s in Goal:
Through 16 games this season, Cougars goaltender Ty Edmonds has put together an impressive 10-4-1-0 record with a 1.98 goals-against-average and a league high .937 save percentage. Thanks to a rough outing from Everett’s Carter Hart earlier this week, Edmonds, the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Week is only .05 points shy of matching Hart’s league leading 1.93 goals-against-average. Last Tuesday at home against Kootenay Edmonds made some timely stops to help guide his team to victory. In total he turned aside 21 of the 23 shots fired his way. With three games upcoming for the Cougars over their nextfive days, it would seem like both Ty Edmonds and Nick McBride are going to get some games during this trip for the Cougars, and both have shown all season long that they are capable of leading their team to victory, particularly on the road. Whoever gets the nod tonight could be in for a busy night, but all the coaching staff is asking for his that the goaltender gives the Cougars a chance tow in the game, and given how well both have played this season that shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Confidence right now for the Cougars is high, and rightfully so given how well they’ve played over the past two months. But what’s been very impressive about this Cougars group is the fact that up to this point they haven’t taken any of their success for granted. Every day this team comes to the rink with a quiet swagger and the cold honest truth of the matter is that this team ‘expects’ to win games whereas in the past, they might be just ‘hoping’ to win a game or to keep it close. The big key tonight for the Cougars: Stay the course, don’t change your mental approach or your physical one. A win tonight for the Cougars coupled with a Victoria loss would put them into a tie for second place in the B.C. Division. The Winterhawks are not going to make things easy on the Cougars, but nothing good ever comes easy anyway. Hopefully tonight in Portland the Cougars can continue to get timely offense, some big saves and ideally their seventh straight victory of the season.