Cougars Hope to Bring in March ‘Like a Lion’
With a new month comes a fresh start for the Prince George Cougars. After a tough month of February that yielded a 3-8-1-0 record, the Cougars have nine games remaining in their regular season, and are still in complete control of their post-season destiny. Tonight marks the start of a busy week for the Cougars as they’ll play four of their next five games at home, including back-to-back games against the Vancouver Giants. The Giants are running out of games and are likely destined for a third straight season without a birth in the WHL playoffs, but that doesn’t mean for one single second that they can be taken lightly. They’d love to play the role of spoiler, and there is certainly no love lost between these two clubs. For the Cougars it’s time to play desperate hockey, and the Giants are looking to do everything within their power to hinder the Cougars from clinching their second playoff berth in as many seasons, something that the Cougars haven’t accomplished since 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Lorne Molleken’s Vancouver Giants are coming into Prince George with an overall record of 23-34-5-2. Their 53 points currently place them 10th in the Western Conference and fifth in the B.C. Division. Over their past 10 games they are 3-6-1-0 and their goal differential for the season is -49. This season the Giants are 2-4 against the Cougars but impressively are 2-0 against Prince George at CN Centre. In January, 2016 they became the first team all season to take both games of a back-to-back double-header in Prince George. The visiting team has won all six matchups between the two clubs heading into this week and no doubt the Giants will look to keep that trend going when they square off with the Cougars tonight.
Who’s Up Front:
The 2015-16 season has been plagued by injuries for the Vancouver Giants, especially up front. For most of the season the Giants have been without their captain Tyler Benson, and they’ve also had to deal with lengthy injuries to the likes of Thomas Foster and recently to their leading scorer Chase Lang who didn’t make the trip North with the Giants to Prince George for these two games. That means the Vancouver will need to rely on the likes of Ty Ronning (29 goals, 24 assists) and Trevor Cox (!5 goals, 38 assists) to lead the way offensively. Ronning is the finisher while Cox is the expert play-maker of the bunch and both should see ample opportunity over the next days to carry the load offensively for their team.
Who’s on D:
With 10 points in six games against the Cougars this season, Vancouver Giants defenseman Brennan Menell leads all Giants in scoring against Prince George. The second year defenceman from Woodbury, MN has put together an impressive season with seven goals and 41 assists which puts him eighth in league scoring among defencemen. He’s a power play ace with terrific patience and he skates with the puck very confidently. Keeping Menell in check on the back-end is going to be a big key tonight for the Cougars as he’s shown often this season that he can be a legitimate threat offensively.
Who’s in Goal:
Perhaps the biggest bright spot of the season for Vancouver has been the play of rookie goaltender Ryan Kubic. The 17-year-old has dressed in 46 games and has put together a solid campaign with a record of 17-22-4-0 with a save percentage of just under .900 and a goals-against-average of 3.27, which isn’t bad considering how the Giants have struggled at times defensively. Kubic is 2-2 for the season against the Cougars with a 3.97 goals-against-average and a save percentage of .894, but in both victories which came in Prince George, Kubic was excellent stopping 62 of the 66 shots fired his way while holding the Cougars to just four goals for during those two games. He’s certainly capable, and the Cougars will need to do all they can to make his life difficult between the pipes.
With the Giants playoff hopes fleeting it’s very important that the Giants continue to come to the rink with a positive mindset. The last eight games for the Giants should provide the younger players on their roster with some ample playing time as the auditions for next season could be well underway. At the end of the day there is still enormous pride inside that dressing room, and the Vancouver Giants are not about to make these two games easy on the Cougars. They play a hard, fast and physical game and if the Cougars take them lightly they could be in for a world of frustration when all is said and done.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars are happy to be home. This season they have protected their home ice with the best of them posting a home record of 18-11-1-1. Overall the Cougars are 33-26-3-1 which still puts them two wins and three points ahead of their pace from a season ago. Despite a tough February the Cougars need to be encouraged by the fact that they are still in complete control of their playoff destiny, something that wasn’t always the case a season ago. The Cougars are coming off a 1-3 US road trip and are looking to put a string of victories together as they prepare for their next four straight games to take place at home. The Cougars are 4-2 against the Giants but have yet to beat them at home this season.
Who’s Up Front:
The duo of Jesse Gabrielle (seven goals, five assists) and Chase Witala (five goals, eight assists) should both be excited to face the Vancouver Giants twice more. The two snipers for the Cougars have combined for 12 goals and 25 points in six games against them this season. Gabrielle still leads the team with 38 goals and is looking to become the first Cougar to surpass the 40 goal mark since Todd Fiddler did so in 2013-14. Right behind him is Chase Witala who with 36 goals is just two shy of matching his total from a season ago. It goes without saying that the Cougars are going to need their top offensive players to lead the charge down the stretch as the playoffs draw closer and specifically Witala and Gabrielle will need to have a big home stand.
Who’s on D:
Now for some more good news. Both Sam Ruopp and Shaun Dosanjh have been cleared medically, and both are likely to suit up tonight for the Prince George Cougars. Dosanjh hasn’t played since the 12th of February against Kelowna and his toughness and experience will be a welcomed addition to the Cougars back-end that has been awfully young for the past three games. The re-addition of captain Sam Ruopp is all sorts of ‘huge’ for the Cougars who have missed his toughness, leadership and his dependability. It’s the old classic case of you don’t realize how bad you miss someone until they’re not here, and you can bet that the entire team will get a big boost from Sam Ruopp’s return tonight.
Who’s in Goal:
Over the course of his past three starts, Ty Edmonds has gone 2-1 and has only surrendered four goals against in that span, three of which came in a loss one week ago in Kennewick where had it not been for Edmonds the score would have been much worse. He’s one victory shy of 20 for the season and in three starts against the Giants Edmonds has gone 2-1 with a 2.73 goals-against-average and a .913 save percentage. With the playoffs drawing closer, the Cougars are likely looking for one of their two goaltenders to take the reigns and establish themselves as ‘the guy’ heading into the playoffs, and tonight marks another chance another for Edmonds to make his mark and contribute in a big way towards a Cougars victory.
Offensively the Cougars broke out in a big way on Friday with a 6-0 victory over the Spokane Chiefs, and despite only scoring twice the next night in the Tri-Cities the Cougars continued to generate quality offensive chances. Here’s hoping that can translate into their home games this week. In six games against Vancouver this season the Cougars have averaged 4.16 goals scored per game, and Mark Holick has always maintained that on most nights in the WHL it’s a race to three, and the team that reaches that three goal mark first has the best chance at winning. Tonight that ‘race to three’ will be a big key for the Cougars as they face the Giants for the seventh time this season.