Cougars Host Giants in New Year’s Opener
Happy New Year! Tonight in snowy Prince George the Prince George Cougars will kick off their 2016 schedule with the first of back-to-back games at home against the Vancouver Giants. Tonight’s game will be the Cougars 19th home game of the season and also their second of three straight games against their B.C. Division rivals.
The month of December was an incredible success for the Cougars and tonight they’ll look to keep that momentum moving forward when they meet with the Giants tonight. If Wednesday’s tilt in Vancouver is any indication, fans this weekend in Prince George are going to be in for a wild and physical ride.
Lorne Molleken’s Vancouver Giants are coming into 2016 looking to ride a wave of success that they started to experience towards the later stages of 2015. After a very tough start to the season the Giants have really started to come as of late having won four of their past six games. Their record in their last 10 is 5-4-1-0. At 13-20-3-2 the Giants have 31 points and are six points back of the Portland Winterhawks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. These two games in Prince George this weekend will be very important as the Giants have some big decision to make with the upcoming WHL trade deadline looming on January 10th. So far this season the Giants are 0-3 against the Cougars but they haven’t yet faced Prince George on the road.
Who’s Up Front:
Wednesday in Vancouver the Giants were led by 20-year-old forward Trevor Cox who played a terrific game tallying once and adding two assists for a three point game. In 20 games with the Giants since a trade from Medicine Hat, Cox has put up 24 points and is a +1 on a team that’s surrendered 26 more goals than they have scored. When Cox is at his best he’s one of the best pure playmakers in the WHL. Last season with Medicine Hat Cox finished second in the entire WHL in scoring with 109 points. If the Giants are to be successful this weekend they’ll no doubt be leaning on Cox and his linemates to lead their charge offensively.
Who’s on D:
In three games against the Cougars this season, Giants defenceman Brennan Menell leads all Vancouver defenders with a goal and three assists. The mobile defenceman had a goal and an assist for Vancouver on Wednesday and currently sits second on the team in scoring for defencemen with three goals and 16 assists for 19 points. Defensively the Giants will be leaning on Menell to once again provide some steady minutes in all situations this weekend.
Who’s in Goal:
17-year-old Ryan Kubic has been a real work horse between the pipes as of late for the Giants and his numbers in December show it. In 12 December appearances Kubic held a record of 7-3-1-0, two shutouts, a save percentage of .924 and a goals-against-average of 2.33. Wednesday in Vancouver Kubic was brilliant through two periods before struggling in the third period en route to a 6-3 loss to PG. In two games this season against the Cougars Kubic is 0-1 a 6.72 goals-against-average and an .851 save percentage.
The month of December was a strong one for Vancouver Giants second year forward Tyler Benson. The former first overall selection in the WHL (In 2013) scored three goals and added 12 assists for 15 points in 12 December games helping the Giants win seven of their 12 games. Benson has tremendous vision and sees the game as well as anybody in the WHL. He leads all Vancouver skaters with a goal and four assists in three games this season against the Prince George Cougars.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars come into 2016 riding a two game winning streak. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and their record of 23-12-1-1 puts them one single point back of Victoria for second place in the Western Conference and B.C. Division standings. At home the Cougars are 8-1-0-1 in their last 10 games and only have one regulation loss at CN Centre since the middle of October. So far this season against Vancouver the Cougars are 3-0 with their most recent victory coming Wednesday at the Pacific Coliseum.
Who’s Up Front:
The month of December was a terrific month for many of the Prince George Cougars, none more so though than 20-year-old Chase Witala. In 13 December games Witala scored 14 goals, added nine assists, two hat-tricks and had six multi-point games. Witala’s goal and two assists Wednesday in Vancouver moved him within one point of the team’s scoring lead behind Jesse Gabrielle, and his 24 goals put him in a tie for second in the WHL behind Jon Martin of Swift Current who has 27. In three games against the Giants this season Witala has four goals and four assists for eight points. Look for him and his linemates to try and build off of that success tonight.
Who’s on D:
No Prince George Cougars defenceman has been hotter than third year Vancouver Canucks prospect Tate Olson. The pride of Saskatoon, SK comes into tonight’s game with 13 points in his past 13 games. In December Olson recorded five multi-point games and was a +14 in December which now puts him atop the team in plus-minus with +17 on the season. In two games against the Giants this season Olson has four assists which leads all Cougars defencemen.
Who’s in Goal:
Goaltending continues to be a tremendous strength of this Cougars team. Take the month of December for example: Ty Edmonds’ record in December was 5-2 with a 2.34 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage with one shutout. Nick McBride was strong too with a 5-1 record, a 3.29 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage. The numbers don’t always have to be flashy. The most important thing for these goaltenders is that they WIN and they do so often. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the Prince George Cougars players and coaches truly do not care which netminder gets the tap on the back, they’re going to give their team a chance to win.
So far this season the Cougars have a strong run of success against the Giants going 3-0 in their three previous meetings, but don’t think for one second that the Giants should or can be taken lightly. The Giants have won seven of their last 12 games and have plenty of offensive depth and talent that can strike quickly if given the chance. The big key for the Cougars tonight will be to stay the course, and not change their game plan because of their home ice advantage. The same keys to success remain: Stay disciplined, stay structured and when you get chances to score, take full advantage! It should be a fun weekend at the CN Centre for all involved and hopefully the Cougars can carry their success from late 2015 into the start of a new year tonight!