Cougars Host Hitmen
Tonight in Prince George, the Cougars continue their six game homestand. So far in four games the Cougars have compiled an even 2-2 record. The past four games have produced some special highs and some frustrating lows for this Cougars team, but despite their topsy turvy start to their season, the Cougars are a victory away from being back at the .500 mark. Once again though the task at hand won’t be an easy one as the Cougars to head-to-head with the reigning Central Division champs, the Calgary Hitmen.
Mark French’s Calgary Hitmen come into tonight’s game with a record of 6-3-0-1 through their first 10 games. After a pair of lopsided losses earlier last week, the Hitmen responded Sunday with a convincing 5-1 victory over the Regina Pats. Their power play went five-for-seven in the victory and they got some steady goaltending from Lasse Petersen. Last season the Hitmen went 1-2 against the Cougars and were winless against them in one meeting at the CN Centre. A win tonight for Calgary would move them ahead of the Red Deer Rebels and into first place in the Central Division.
Who’s Up Front:
Leading the way offensively for Calgary is 1996-born import forward Radel Fazleev. The Calgary Flames prospect leads all Hitmen forwards with five goals and 13 points. Last season in 71 games, Fazleev netted 18 goals along with 33 assists and was a +23. In 17 playoff games with Calgary he notched four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. Fazleev had one goal in three meetings against the Cougars a season ago.
Who’s on D:
The glaring strength of this Calgary team is on their back-end where they are arguably the deepest in the entire Eastern Conference. Leading the way for Calgary is the duo of Travis Sanheim and Jake Bean. The 19-year-old Sanheim is a first round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers and led all WHL defencemen in points last season with 65. So far this season he’s notched three goals and 12 assists for a team high 15 points in 10 games. Meanwhile 17-year-old Jake Bean is also off to a torrid start of his own. The sophomore defenceman leads all Calgary players with seven goals and is one point shy of Sanheim for the team’s overall scoring lead. These two, along with Colby Harmsworth, Michael Zipp, Ben Thomas and Loch Morrison provide some very reliable and steady defense. The Cougars will have to scratch and claw for every free inch of ice tonight against them.
Who’s in Goal:
20-year-old Brendan Burke has been battling injuries to start the season, so the young tandem of Lasse Petersen and Kyle Dumba have seen a bulk of the work to this point in the season for Calgary. The 18-year-old Petersen has the better numbers of the two having posted a 3-0 record with a 2.44 goals-against-average, an .892 save percentage and one shutout. The 17-year-old Dumba is 1-3-0-1 with a 6.38 goals-against-average and a .804 save percentage. Burke was awesome in his first two starts, going 2-0 with a shutout, a .971 save percentage and a .72 goals-against-average. Burke’s status for this week is still unknown, so the Cougars will need to prepare accordingly for all three potential opponents.
After going five-for-seven on the man advantage on Sunday, Calgary’s power play has vaulted all the way to seventh best in the WHL at 27.1 percent. Since it’s still early in the season, there are many teams with inflated special team stats at both sides of the coin, but success on the power play is all about confidence, and Calgary has some terrific puck movers who can make life awfully difficult for their opposition if they are given too many opportunities with the man advantage.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars come into tonight’s game with a 3-4 record. They’re coming off a weekend where they shutout the defending league champs 3-0 on Friday only to drop a 6-2 score against them on Saturday. Through seven games the Cougars are still searching for some consistency as they have been unable to rattle off consecutive victories up to this point of the season. Last season the Cougars went 2-0-0-1 against Calgary and defeated them 3-2 at home back on March 4, 2015.
Who’s Up Front:
Offensively the Cougars have to be encouraged by the recent production from Brad Morrison. Despite the loss on Saturday, Morrison collected a goal and an assist and is now tied with Jansen Harkins for second in team scoring with five points. He along with Chase Witala and Jansen Harkins have had their moments up to this point in the season, but have struggled with consistency as well. A big night from Morrison and his linemates would go a long way tonight for the Cougars as they look to keep pace with the rest of the B.C. Division.
Who’s on D:
Defensively the Cougars can take some solace in the fact that despite surrendering six goals against on Saturday against Kelowna, their goals against total still remains one of their biggest strengths to start the season. Only Seattle, Everett and Brandon have surrendered fewer goals against this season than Prince George, and as the Cougars get set for a lengthy stretch of games on the road, it will be important for them to maintain a strong work ethic defensively to keep those goals against down. Statistically the Cougars are led by Vancouver Canucks prospect Tate Olson who’s notched seven points in seven games to lead the team.
Who’s in Goal:
For 98 games of his 101 game WHL career, goaltender Mack Shields called Calgary home. Over the course of his stint with the Hitmen he won 57 regular season games and six more in the playoffs. He also recorded five shutout victories. Was he a guarantee to crack Calgary’s roster this season as a 20-year-old? Not necessarily, but when Shields was released by the Calgary Hitmen in the summer it certainly caught a lot of people off guard. But Calgary’s loss has been Prince George’s gain, and tonight the 20-year-old from Saskatoon will suit up against his former team. The big key here though is that team success is a lot more important than personal accolades. Mack Shields is the first to remind everyone of that fact, and tonight it would no doubt be a huge boost to this team and to Shields if the collective group can come out and secure a victory. You look for inspiration wherever you can find it, and hopefully tonight against his former team, Mack Shields can rise up and be a difference maker as the Cougars look for their fourth win of the season.
19 goals against in seven games? That’s a terrific stat for Prince George. 17 goals for in seven games? That is still not where the Cougars expected to be considering the fire power that they possess offensively. Tonight the Cougars are facing one of the top defensive teams in the game, which means that the challenge remains a stiff one for the Cougars top offensive players. But the Cougars remain confident and they remain encouraged by some of the positives from the weekend (particularly from Friday) and offensively the Cougars will need to do all they can to create traffic and make life difficult on the Hitmen defense corps when possible. Tonight’s matchup with Calgary marks the first time this season that the Cougars will face a team from the Central Division, and hopefully a clash with Calgary is just what the doctor ordered for this Cougars team here tonight.