Cougars Ice Preview
Tonight in Prince George, the Prince George Cougars and the Kootenay Ice will meet for the first and only time in 2015-16. The matchup itself features two teams riding opposite waves of momentum. The Prince George Cougars are red hot having won five straight games, and are currently riding an eight game regulation unbeaten streak and a nine game home regulation unbeaten streak. On the other side of the coin the Kootenay Ice have been decimated by injuries and are winless in their last seven games. Tonight they’ll wrap up their eight day B.C. Division road swing and will be looking salvage some points on what has been a tough trip up this point.
The Kootenay Ice are coming into tonight’s game with an overall record of 6-23-2-0. Their 14 points currently puts them 12th in the Eastern Conference and last overall in the WHL standings. So far in their current B.C. Division trip Kootenay is 0-5 and have been outscored 18-3 in that span. They’re 2-8 in their last 10 games and have been badly by the injury bug in recent weeks. But despite all of those things, rookie head coach Luke Pierce and his troops are a hard working group that aren’t about to make it easy on the Cougars tonight. The Ice were 7-4 winners over Prince George a season ago and are 3-2 against the Cougars over the past five seasons and are 2-0 against them at the CN Centre.
Who’s Up Front:
Despite missing the last 13 games due to injury, Kootenay Ice forward Zak Zborosky is a ‘maybe’ for tonight’s game and his return would be a huge boost for a Kootenay offense that has struggled in recent games. In 18 games this season, Zborosky has 11 goals and 20 points, which puts him second on the team behind the injured Luke Philp. Zborosky had 18 goals and 22 points a season ago and has proven that he can contribute offensively at this level. His experience would also be a welcomed addition to the young Kootenay lineup. At this stage he is still a game-time decision for Kootenay.
Who’s on D:
One familiar face on the back-end for Kootenay that the Cougars are familiar with is 20-year-old Tanner Lishchynsky. The Saskatoon, SK product is enjoying his second full season with the Ice after he joined them mid-way through the season in 2014-15. So far Lischynsky has posted seven assists and has added 24 minutes in penalties to his resume. He’s not going to wow you offensively, but the one thing you can always count in with Lischynsky is a 100 percent work ethic. This could very well be his final WHL game ever at the CN Centre and you know that he’ll want to make a strong final impression in the place where he played 78 WHL games.
Who’s in Goal:
20-year-old Wyatt Hoflin has proven over the course of his lengthy career that he can STEAL games for his team and assuming that he gets the nod tonight you can bet that he’ll be looking to do exactly that. Despite the tough record of 4-16-1-0, Hoflin has a respectable save percentage of just under .900 and his goals-against-average is 3.74. The veteran from Spruce Grove, AB has 15 playoff games under his belt and 133 career regular season games to his credit. Assuming he gets the call in goal the Cougars will need to make sure that they make life as difficult as possible on him, which means lots of net front traffic and second and third chances.
When a team is struggling and wins are hard to come by, you’ll often hear coaches talk about their ‘work ethic’ and being able to ‘control what we can control’. Tonight for the Kootenay Ice it’s all about ethic and trying to be the hardest working team on the ice. The Cougars are on a heck of a roll, and you can bet that Mark Holick is going to be preaching to his team that the Kootenay Ice are going to come at them desperately, and Prince George must be ready for that type of killer instinct from their opposition. Kootenay likely won’t win a run-and-gun style of game, but if they score early and can clamp down defensively and outwork the Cougars they’re going to give themselves their best shot possible to win.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars are feeling very confident about their play as of late. They’ve won five straight games, are unbeaten in eight straight games through regulation and are also riding a nine game regulation home unbeaten streak. Their overall record of 17-9-1-1 marks their best start to a season since 2001-2002, and their 36 points puts them 10 points ahead of their pace from a season ago through 28 games. The Cougars will be looking for their first victory against the Kootenay Ice since October of 2012. Tonight’s game marks the continuation of a busy stretch for the Cougars who will have played five games in eight days when all is said and done tonight.
Who’s Up Front:
With three goals and an assist Sunday in Vancouver, Chase Witala is really starting to come into his own offensively. The 20-year-old Prince George product is now second in the team in goals (14) and points (22). Over his past 15 games, Witala has put together a nice run of 11 goals and four assists. You can bet that he along with linemates Brogan O’Brien and Jesse Gabrielle will hope to continue their recent offensively surge tonight when the Ice are in town. Witala’s hat trick marked the first for a Cougar since Zach Pochiro scored three against Victoria in Game 5 of their first round playoff series. It was also the second hat-trick of his five year WHL career.
Who’s on D:
With eight points in his past eight games Tate Olson continues to play his best and most consistent hockey of his career. He’s a +10 which is second on the team, and his 18 points in 22 games puts him in the lead in team scoring for defencemen. Olson’s the type of player who has steadily improved in each season that he’s played at this level and surely the Vancouver Canucks have taken notice. Is there a more underrated defenceman in the WHL right now than Tate Olson? Give that some serious thought, because finding an answer is not easy. Here’s hoping that as the month of December continues that Tate and fellow blueliners can continue to play rock solid defense.
Who’s in Goal:
Fresh off of being named WHL Goaltender of the Week, Ty Edmonds will get the call in net tonight and will be looking to extend his regulation unbeaten streak to nine games. Edmonds has been arguably the most consistent Cougar all season. His 9-4-1-0 record is exceptional as is his league high .938 save percentage and his 1.98 goals-against-average which puts him second overall in the league behind Carter Hart of Everett. For Edmonds it’s all about just keeping his game simple. His preparation has been excellent all season long, and most importantly he’s given the Cougars a chance to win each and every time he’s taken the ice. Hopefully tonight that’s a trend that can continue positively both for Edmonds’ sake and the Cougars.
The Prince George Cougars need to remember a few things when heading into tonight’s game: First off, back on January of this year, the Cougars were in Cranbrook at the end of a long and winless road trip. They were badly injured and badly fatigued and lost a game 7-4 for the Kootenay Ice. Did Kootenay feel sorry for the Cougars during their rough stretch last year? Not for one second. While the situation is somewhat different this time around, one can’t help but compare the similarities only on opposite sides. Again, the Kootenay Ice cannot, for one single second be taken lightly. There is too much talent, and too much heart on the other team for anybody on the home side to take the night off. Sooner or later the Kootenay Ice are going to snap their losing streak and given how well the Cougars have played as of late, they don’t want to be that team that gets Kootenay back into the win column. The Cougars need to be the hardest working team on the ice tonight, and if they do that, they are going to put themselves into an excellent position to succeed and win tonight.