Cougars vs. Royals Tonight
The wait is over. After 32 games and 20 victories to their credit so far, the Prince George Cougars get their first crack at their 2015 playoff rivals, the Victoria Royals. It’s fitting that both teams come into this weekend with 42 points to their credit and by the end of the night one of these teams will have clear possession of second place in the B.C. Division. No doubt the memories from April and the postseason linger large for both of these teams and coaches, fans, players and all involved this weekend are no doubt excited to add a new chapter or two to this awesome B.C. Division rivalry.
Dave Lowry’s Victoria Royals come into tonight’s game with an overall record of 20-11-1-1. Their 42 points put them in a tie with Prince George for second place in the B.C. Division though they have played one more game than the Cougars have. They’ve dropped two straight games and are 5-4-1-0 in their past 10 games altogether. Last season against the Cougars in the regular season the Royals went 5-3 and in the playoffs the Royals won the series in five games. Tonight’s game marks the first of four consecutive meetings between these two clubs.
Who’s Up Front:
Offensively the Royals are led by former Prince George Cougar Alex Forsberg who has potted 11 goals and 31 assists for 42 points in 32 games. Originally selected first overall by the Cougars in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, the product of Walheim, SK has had somewhat of an up and down career up to this point, but after stint in Prince George that lasted three seasons, Forsberg’s career has rounded into form nicely, and this season with Victoria he has been the epitome of consistency. He’s got eight points in his last four games and is a threat to score every time he takes the ice. Keeping Forsberg in check will be a big key for the Cougars this weekend.
Who’s on D:
Notably absent from the Victoria blueline this weekend will be 19-year-old captain Joe Hicketts. The fourth year defenceman from Kamloops, B.C. is currently attending Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp in Ontario, and is likely headed for Finland for his second go-around as a Canadian World Junior. His absence is a big one though as his 30 points in 29 games puts him at the top of scoring among Royals defencemen and his strength and dependability in his own end makes him arguably Victoria’s most valuable player on a nightly basis. Stepping up in his absence will be a pair of veterans in Ryan Gagnon and Chaz Reddekopp who will log the most minutes this weekend against the top Cougar forwards.
Who’s in Goal:
20-year-old Coleman Vollrath has had a very successful WHL career up to this point and this season so far is no exception. Coming into tonight’s game the veteran netminder is 16-10-0-1 with a 2.37 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage. Over the course of his career against the Cougars, Vollrath has posted a lifetime record of 7-3 with a 2.28 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage. In five playoff games last season he went 4-1 with a 2.99 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage. His backup goaltender is former Cariboo Cougar Griffen Outhouse who in eight appearances has posted a 4-1-1-0 record with a 1.68 goals-against-average and a .941 save percentage.
Not only are the Victoria Royals going to battle tonight without their captain Joe Hicketts but they are also going to war without their head coach and leader Dave Lowry. Lowry is also in Ontario as he prepares to lead Canada’s World Junior team as their head coach. Now, let’s be clear that long time assistant coach Enio Sacilotto is more than capable to lead this Royals team, and he’s got years of experience at all levels meaning Victoria likely won’t miss a beat in Lowry’s absence. But with all of that said, the presence of a man like Lowry is a factor in itself. He’s had a ton of success coaching at this level and there’s a clear reason why Hockey Canada has selected him to lead the charge in Finland this year. It will be very important for the Royals to rally around their assistant coach and do everything within their power to play with the same style, pace and urgency that they normally would otherwise.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars come into tonight’s game with an overall record of 20-10-1-1. Their 42 points put them tied with Victoria for second place in the B.C. Division and they trail the first placed Kelowna Rockets by nine points for top spot in the WHL. The Cougars are winners of two straight and have just one regulation loss over the course of their past 12 games. They’ve also gone 10 straight games on home ice without a regulation loss. Earlier this week they were given an honorable mention for the CHL’s Weekly Top 10 teams.
Who’s Up Front:
With three assists in last Tuesday’s game against Seattle, Jansen Harkins improved his season points total to 25 points in 29 games, but he also recorded the 100th career assist in his young career. Harkins has really started to round his game into form, and over his past 16 games he’s recorded 19 points. When Harkins is at his best he’s among the top playmakers in the entire WHL and you can bet that he and his linemates Brad Morrison and Jared Bethune are going to be pumped up and ready for this weekend. If Harkins can continue to produce with this type of consistency it means bad news for the Victoria Royals.
Who’s on D:
Commitment to team defense continues to be one of the major strengths of this Cougars team in 2015-16. Consider this: In 22 games this season the Cougars have held their opponents to two goals or less, and they’re record in those games is 19-2-1-0. The Cougars goal differential is now a +19 and the combined plus-minus of Cougars defencemen this season is a staggering +43. No doubt the Cougars are going to have their hands full this weekend against a talented corps of Victoria forwards, but confidence on the back-end has to be at an all-time high and you can bet that the six defensemen who dress tonight are going to be prepared for the task at hand.
Who’s in Goal:
Tuesday’s victory in Seattle was the 11th of the season for Ty Edmonds who now has 59 victories for his career. Was it flashy? Not in the least. But once again Edmonds was calm, steady and made the saves at key times to keep his team either tied or ahead in the game. Mark Holick is not kidding when he says that it he’s got the same confidence in either guy: Ty Edmonds or Nick McBride. Goaltending is such a crucial part of any team’s success in this league, and the Cougars are beaming at the success that their goaltenders have shown so far this season. Whoever gets the start tonight again will likely have to make some clutch saves and key moments, but both have shown that they are more than capable of doing so, and it’s nice to be able to say that goaltending on most nights has been the least of the Cougars concerns.
Don’t change a thing. During this recent string of success that has now stretched over the course of a calendar month, the Cougars preparation and attention to detail has been exceptional. It doesn’t matter if the game is at home or on the road, this Cougars team is ready to play once the puck has dropped. There’s bound to be a bit of a feeling out process as these teams haven’t faced each other since last April, but you can bet that the energy from the fans is going to be electric and the Cougars will be ready to defend their home turf to the very best of their ability tonight. Now let’s drop the puck already!