Cougars vs Broncos -Preview
So what do we know about the 2015-16 Prince George Cougars. Well first off we know that they are vastly improved. Through 49 games the Cougars are 18 points ahead of their pace from a season ago, and are one win away from cracking the 30 win mark. We know that when they are at their best they are strong in all areas: Goaltending, team defense, offensive depth, and special teams, etc. We also know that this team is still trying to find it’s way and trying to establish that type of killer instinct and intensity that championship teams possess. Enter a six game, 11 full day Eastern road trip, one which will see the Cougars face all six teams in the Eastern Division. It will be cold. It will be difficult. But will also be incredibly revealing. Tonight the Prince George Cougars kick off their longest road trip of the 2015-16 season when they battle the Swift Current Broncos, a team with the lowest record in the Eastern Conference and the WHL.
SWIFT CURRENT BRONCOS
Mark Lamb’s Swift Current Broncos are coming into tonight’s game with an overall record of 15-27-4-1. Their 35 points put them sixth in the Eastern Division and 11th in the 12 team Eastern Conference. Their 117 goals for is the second lowest total in the league, and their goal differential heading into tonight’s game is -42. They are 3-6-1-0 in their past 10 games and are coming off a 6-2 loss to the Calgary Hitmen from last Saturday. The Broncos are winless in each of their past two meetings against the Cougars.
Who’s Up Front:
Leading the way offensively for the Swift Current Broncos is 20-year-old forward Jon Martin who with 31 goals is tied with Cougars forward Jesse Gabrielle for the league lead. The pride of Winnipeg, MB was acquired by the Broncos earlier in the season in a trade with the Kootenay Ice and frankly has been an incredible find for the Broncos. Consider this: Jon Martin’s previous career high for goals in a season was 10, and he did that two seasons ago as an 18-year-old. It is going to be incredibly fun for the fans to watch Martin go head-to-head with Jesse Gabrielle and you can bet that both individuals won’t have any difficulty getting up for this type of showdown.
Who’s on D:
18-year-old Max Lajoie is in the midst of his second full season in the Western Hockey League and despite the Broncos struggles record-wise he’s managed to put together a solid second season in the WHL. He leads all Bronco blueliners with 25 points and earlier in January he was ranked as the 41st top North American skater eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft. Over the years the Broncos have pumped out some terrific defencemen: Julius Honka, Dillon Heatherington, Brycen Martin, etc. and Max Lajoie is certainly another big name that will likely log a ton of key minutes tonight against the Cougars top offensive performers.
Who’s in Goal:
Since veteran Landon Bow was dealt to Seattle, the Broncos have gone with the tandem of 18-year-olds Travis child and Taz Burman. Child has a record of 4-11-0-1 with a .901 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 3.26. Burman on the other hand is 9-6 with a .896 save percentage and a 3.20 goals-against-average. In four starts with the Broncos Burman is 2-2 but has an excellent save percentage of .923. No word yet on who is going to get the nod tonight for the Broncos.
Don’t let their tough record fool you. The Swift Current Broncos play hard, fast and can definitely make you pay if you take them lightly. Forward Glenn Gawdin has battled injuries this season, but still has 29 points in 28 games and can score with the best of them when he’s at his best. He’s a fourth round pick of the St. Louis Blues and might be one of the more underrated two-way players in the Western Hockey League. He’s a +5, a power play threat and one of the leaders on this Broncos club. Keeping Gawdin in check will be key tonight for the Cougars on the road.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars come into tonight’s game with an overall mark of 29-18-1-1. Their 60 points puts them third in the B.C. Division three points back of Victoria for the second place spot. The Cougars are 6-4-0-0 in their last 10 and are coming off a disappointing loss Monday against Medicine Hat at home. The Cougars have had a good little run as of late on the road though having won 10 of their past 13 away from home, and they haven’t lost back-to-back games on the road in over two months. The Cougars have won two straight against the Broncos dating back to the 2013-14 season and the last game they played in Swift Current was a 6-2 victory for the Cougars.
Who’s Up Front:
With two goals on Monday against the Tigers, Jesse Gabrielle vaulted his way into a tie atop the WHL goal scoring race with 31. This is going to be a big trip for Gabrielle as two of his former teams (Brandon and Regina) play in the East Division. But beyond that storyline is the fact that Gabrielle is easily the most comfortable Cougar in this part of the world and knows what to expect from these cities from a comfort, intensity and a lineup stand point. Make no mistake about it, there are definitely points on the table for the likes of Gabrielle and his linemates Chase Witala and Brogan O’Brien over the course of this trip and a big night from them would really put the Cougars into a strong frame of mind as they kick-start this lengthy trip.
Who’s on D:
For Sam Ruopp, Tate Olson and Shane Collins this trip through the prairies will undoubtedy be a special one, as the three Saskatchewan born defenceman on the Cougars blueline will have the chance to play games in front of friends and family likely in all six cities. All three will be expected to contribute big minutes as well, especially since Josh Anderson did not make the trip out East with the team. For Ruopp it’s about a calm, confidence and physical approach, while Olson will be expected to use his vision, smarts and speed to make plays at both ends. For Collins it’s about consistency and being willing to answer the bell both physically and offensively when the moment calls for it. Attention to detail defensively is going to be a big key during the whole trip for the Cougars starting tonight in Swift Current.
Who’s in Goal:
The good news is that Nick McBride appears to be on the verge of returning to the crease for the Cougars at some point, but in all likelihood Ty Edmonds will make his 11th consecutive start in goal for the Cougars when they face the Broncos. Edmonds has had a hot-and-cold January with a 6-5 record, an .892 save percentage and a 3.18 goals-against-average and one shutout. Last weekend against Kamloops he was excellent, especially in the second game, which was a 6-1 Cougars victory. Monday against the Tigers was not his best and he’ll be looking to rebound from that one tonight. The good news is that Edmonds hasn’t put together too many back-to-back tough outings. You usually need good goaltending if you want to win on the road and here’s hoping that Edmonds is up to the task tonight at the Credit Union I Plex.
Over the next 10 days, the Prince George Cougars are going to be play a ton of hockey. They NEED to maintain a positive attitude and a confident demeanor. Things aren’t always going to go their way. There will be trials, and there will be moments during this trip where things may seem difficult or bleak. But throughout the inevitable ups and downs the Cougars MUST make sure that they continue to play to their strengths in all three areas of the ice. There is plenty of talent, heart and character on this Cougars club, and we’re about to find out what they are truly all about. Tonight in Swift Current it’s all about starting the road trip in the right frame of mind and that’s where the leadership group and the veterans especially need to rise to the occasion.