Cougars vs. Royals …..Again
Tonight, for a fifth time in 22 days the Prince George Cougars and Victoria Royals will face one another.
There are few (if any) remaining secrets between these two division rivals. In the four previous meetings between the two clubs each team has won twice. The goal differential between the two teams: +1 for Prince George. Each team has won a close game, and both teams have also blown out the other team on one occasion. Do you see where we’re headed here? It’s scary how evenly matched these two clubs are.
Dave Lowry’s Victoria Royals come into tonight’s game an overall record of 24-14-1-3. Their 52 points puts them within six points of first in the B.C. Division and two points ahead of Prince George for second in both the B.C. Division and the Western Conference. So far this season the Royals are 2-2 against the Cougars and are 1-1 against them at the CN Centre. They are 4-4-0-2 in their past 10 games and their road record is 12-8-1-0.
Who’s Up Front:
Offensively the Victoria Royals are led by 20-year-old Alex Forsberg who has posted 17 goals and 34 assists for a total of 51 points in 41 games along with a +12 rating and 43 penalty minutes. The former Prince George Cougar has scored three goals in four games this season against the Cougars and has six points over his past three games including a hat-trick Wednesday at home against the Tri-City Americans. Forsberg is a terrific play maker, but he’s always had an exceptional shot and this season he’s using it well. Stopping Forsberg will be a big key tonight and this weekend for Prince George.
Who’s on D:
Victoria will get a major boost to their lineup tonight with the expected return of defenceman and captain Joe Hicketts who had previously been with Canada’s World Junior Team in Finland. The Kamloops native and Detroit Red Wings prospect leads all Victoria blueliners with 30 points in just 29 games played this season and logs MAJOR minutes for his team in all situations. Hicketts plays a strong and tough game but also skates and moves the puck as well as any defenceman in the entire WHL. His return to action is bound to give his teammates a boost and the Cougars are going to have to work that much harder against him to give themselves an edge tonight.
Who’s in Goal:
Say what you will about the Cougars having a strong goaltending tandem, the fact is: The Royals have one as well. Leading the way is veteran Coleman Vollrath. The 20-year-old is 18-12-0-2 with a .912 save percentage, a 2.52 goals-against-average and one shutout. This season Vollrath is 1-0-0-1 against the Cougars with a 3.03 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage. Behind Vollrath is rookie Griffen Outhouse who’s put up some spectacular numbers as a rookie. The former Cariboo Cougar is 6-2-1-1 on the season with a 1.99 goals-against-average and a .935 save percentage. Outhouse played back-to-back games earlier this week at home against the Tri-City Americans. Will tonight be his third straight start?
The glaring strength of the Royals (similar to the Cougars) is their offensive depth up front. In addition to Forsberg, the Royals have five other forwards that are all dangerous offensively: Matt Phillips, Dante Hannoun, Tyler Soy, Vladimir Bobylev and Jack Walker. All of the above players can skate, shoot and pass with the best of them and they are tough to defend because of those factors. All six of Victoria’s top forwards are plus players and can be trusted defensively which is huge for head coach Dave Lowry. How do you counteract this type of depth if you’re the Cougars: Defend hard and stay disciplined!
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars come into tonight’s game with a 24-14-1-1 record. Their 50 points puts them third in the B.C. Division and the Western Conference just two points behind the Victoria Royals. It’s worth noting that the Cougars do have two games in hand on the Royals, which makes winning this weekend’s set against the Royals all the more important for the Cougars who would love to have home ice advantage if it were to come down to a two-three matchup between these two teams again in the playoffs. The Cougars are 6-4 in their past 10 games and are coming off a 4-3 shootout victory Wednesday in Kamloops. The last time the Cougars and Royals met was on December 28th in Victoria and the Cougars earned a 3-2 shootout victory.
Who’s Up Front:
After a brilliant month of December, Cougars forward Chase Witala hasn’t slowed down offensively. The reigning WHL Player of the Month is currently in the midst of a seven game point streak and he buried his 25th goal of the season on Wednesday in Kamloops to tie the game at two late in the second period. Witala’s 43 points puts him tied with Jesse Gabrielle for first in team scoring and only Swift Current’s Jon Martin (27) and Kamloops’ Collin Shirley (26) have scored more goals than both Witala and Gabrielle who have 25. This weekend against the Royals the Cougars are going to need their best forwards to outshine the forwards at the other end, and Witala will be the one to ultimately lead that charge for Prince George.
Who’s on D:
On most nights in the WHL the team that plays the best defensive game wins. More often than not this season the Cougars can boast that they’ve been the better defensive team and the numbers show with a goal differential of +19. Tonight for the Cougars it’s all about simplicity, physicality and discipline. The Royals have enough talent that they are guaranteed to get good scoring chances, but the Cougars to a large degree can control just how many chances they’ll receive. In big games you always look for your veterans to lead the way and tonight Joe Carvalho, Sam Ruopp and Tate Olson will have the most responsibility on their shoulders when it comes to shutting down the top guns at the other side for the Royals.
Who’s in Goal:
19-year-old Ty Edmonds helped get the Cougars back into the win column Wednesday when he turned aside 22 of the 25 shots he faced in regulation followed by all four Blazers’ shootout attempts en route to his 12th victory of the season. Edmonds now has 60 career victories which puts him just five wins shy of surpassing Billy Thompson for second all-time in victories for a Cougars netminder. Edmonds comes into tonight’s game having struggled against the Royals this season. In two appearances against Victoria Edmonds is 0-1 with a 3.58 goals-against-average and a .897 save percentage. Recent struggles aside, Edmonds has been one of the most consistent performers all season for the Cougars and tonight his teammates will look for a strong performance from him as he looks to help the Cougars into a tie for second in the division with a regulation victory.
In six of their past seven games, the opposing team has scored the first against the Prince George Cougars including all four previous matchups against Victoria. It’s been about a 50/50 split for the Cougars as they’ve scored first in 21 of their 40 games, but the record is drastically different for the Cougars when they do strike first: 15-5-0-1 compared to a 9-9-1-0 record when the opposing team strikes first. A better start is definitely in order for the Cougars tonight as they try to get the home crowd behind them early. Any team will tell you that they’d prefer to play the game with a lead, so hopefully the Cougars can strike first tonight and get the momentum on their side early.