Cougars and Blazers Battle for First Place
When the WHL schedule-makers put the 2016-17 season schedule together they had to have an inkling the Cougars and the Blazers would be duking it out for the B.C. Division crown right?
Though it’s doubtful that an actual crystal ball was used to design the Cougars home stretch of their schedule it’s hard to ignore the intrigue surrounding the final push towards the playoffs. The Cougars have 12 games remaining in their season and they hold a four point lead on Kamloops for top spot in the B.C. Division. Of those final 12 games, five are against the very Blazers that are nipping at their heels. Both teams have played 60 games and both are hungry as ever to put a B.C. Division banner in their rafters in 2017. Tonight the Cougars will look to extend their lead in the B.C. Division back to six points when they clash with the Blazers at 5 PM tonight.
Home Record: 20-7-1-0
Last Game: A 6-1 victory in Vancouver Friday night
Goals For/Goals Against: 202 GF/158 GA
Power Play: 18.4% (16th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 83.5 (3rd in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Deven Sideroff (57GP – 31G – 36A – 67PTS), Rudolfs Balcers (54GP – 33G – 28A – 61PTS), Lane Bauer (59GP – 33G – 27A – 60PTS)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Deven Sideroff: The speedy Anaheim Ducks prospect is having his best season yet in the WHL. In just 57 games he’s potted 31 goals while adding 36 assists for 67 points which is tops on the team. He’s got a goal and two assists in three games this season against the Cougars. There might not be a faster skater in the WHL.
Lane Bauer: In only one game against the Cougars this season, the 20-year-old Bauer posted a goal and two assists. In 19 games with the Blazers he’s got eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points. He’s been a worthwhile investment for the Blazers and has fit in nicely alongside the other skilled Kamloops forwards.
WHO’S ON D:
Joe Gatenby: Through 59 games Gatenby leads all Kamloops defencemen with 34 points. The 19-year-old has loads of experience and has become the number one option on the back-end for the Blazers in all situations. Look for him to log the most minutes against the likes of Harkins, Popugaev, Gabrielle, etc.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Connor Ingram: The Imperial, SK native is having another phenomenal season in the WHL with a 2.20 goals-against-average, a .932 save percentage and a record of 21-10-2-2 with three shutouts. That said, he’s had his struggles this season against the Cougars going 1-1 with a 4.75 goals-against-average and a save percentage of .864. Hockey logic though would suggest that those numbers are the exception and not the rule. It doesn’t get much better between the pipes than Connor Ingram.
Collin Shirley: The 20-year-old Saskatoon, SK native has been a Cougar killer over the years and last game was no exception back on January 21st. Shirley netted the overtime winner helping the Blazers complete their three goal comeback in a 5-4 overtime victory. Every time he’s on the ice he’s a threat and the Cats will need to make sure they make his life as difficult as possible tonight.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Road Record: 20-8-2-0
Last Game: A 5-2 loss last night in Kelowna
Goals For/Goals Against: 209 GF/170 GA
Power Play: 16.2% (20th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 83.8% (2nd in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Nikita Popugaev (59GP – 25A – 35A – 60PTS), Jansen Harkins (52GP – 18G – 42A – 60PTS), Brad Morrison (58GP – 21G – 30A – 51PTS)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Colby McAuley: Had both goals a night ago for the Cougars in their 5-2 loss in Kelowna and now has 21 on the season which is a new career high. McAuley’s 46 points are also a new career high. He’s done it all for the Cougars this season and has become one of their most dependable and versatile forwards. His energy and physicality will be key tonight for PG.
Jesse Gabrielle: In three games against Kamloops this season the Boston Bruins prospect has four goals and three assists for seven points. He always seems to bring his best against Kamloops and more of the same would sure be appreciated tonight. Collectively the Cougars top players need to rise up and match the effort of the top players on the other side and Gabrielle as always is a big key in that regard.
WHO’S ON D:
Sam Ruopp: In big games your leaders have to lead and tonight the onus is going to be on Sam Ruopp to play a big game in all areas for his team. The Blazers have no shortage of speed and skill and veterans like Ruopp, Collins, Olson and Anderson need to make sure that the speed and skill of the Blazers are contained. Great defense is going to be of the utmost importance tonight for the Cougars on the road.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Ty Edmonds: Throw the pursuit of any franchise records out the window tonight. The ultimate key for Ty Edmonds is to rediscover his confidence and get back to being the stand-out veteran, MVP candidate for his team. When Ty Edmonds is ‘on’ there are few goaltenders that can match his abilities. His record of 26-13-2-1 is complimented by a 2.51 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage.
Special Teams: Special teams cost the Cougars in last night’s game in Kelowna as the power play went zero-for-five while allowing a shorthanded goal against, while the penalty kill went three-for-four. With 12 games remaining in their season it is of the utmost importance that the Cougars figure out a way to get their power play clicking again, because come playoff time they are going to need it in a big way.