Cougars Visit Rockets
Tonight in Kelowna the Prince George Cougars will take aim at their longest road winning streak of the season.
Twice already in 2015-16 the Cougars have rattled off four straight victories away from home, and now tonight with a victory at Prospera Place, the Cougars would vault ahead of Victoria for second place in the B.C. Division and in the process would also move closer to the Kelowna Rockets who occupy first in the Division and the conference. It’s been two-and-a-half months since these two rivals last met, and much has changed since then. Can the Cougars continue to ride their recent wave of strong road momentum? Time will soon tell.
Brad Ralph’s Kelowna Rockets come into tonight’s game with the top record in the Western Conference and the second best overall record in the Western Hockey League. Their record of 30-11-3-0 puts them six points ahead of Victoria and seven points ahead of Prince George in the race for first place in the B.C. Division. The Rockets are 5-3-2-0 in their past 10 games and are coming off an overtime victory from last weekend against the Victoria Royals. So far this season the Rockets are 2-2 against the Cougars and are 1-1 against them at home.
Who’s Up Front:
With 26 goals and 40 assists, 20-year-old forward Tyson Baillie leads all Rockets in scoring with 66 points. His 66 points put him tied for second in league scoring with Hurricanes forward Brayden Burke and his 26 goals put him in a tie for fifth in the WHL for goals. So far this season, Baillie has scored twice and added six assists for eight points in four games against Prince George. Admittedly Baillie hasn’t played in over a week, but assuming he’s returning to action tonight, the Cougars will need to ensure that Baillie and his linemate Dillon Dube (42 points in 37 games) are held in check.
Who’s on D:
Defensively the Kelowna Rockets are led by 18-year-old defenceman Lucas Johansen. With six goals and 25 points, Johansen leads all Kelowna blue liners in scoring and has done a fine job of leading a rather young blueline in all situations this season. Earlier today Johansen’s name appeared at #38 on Central Scouting’s Mid-Term Rankings List for North American skaters, which means that it’s all but a certainty that he’ll be drafted in the early rounds of the 2016 NHL Draft. In four games against the Cougars this season, Johansen has a goal and an assist and has played the most minutes against the Cougars top forwards. Tonight should be no different in that regard.
Who’s in Goal:
With Jackson Whistle still sidelined with an injury, 19-year-old Michael Herringer is expected to get the nod once again. For the season he’s 11-5-1-0 with a .900 save percentage and a 3.21 goals-against-average and in six January starts he’s 3-2-1-0 with an .985 percentage and a 3.31 goals-against-average. That said, both of Kelowna victories against the Cougars this season have come with Herringer in net. He’s 2-0 against Prince George with a 2.00 goals-against-average and a .941 save percentage in those games.
Whenever the Kelowna Rockets take the ice it’s impossible not to notice the dynamic duo of Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley. Now due to injury and a variety of other factors, this all-star tandem of players hasn’t put up the astounding point totals that they did from a season ago, but on any given night they are still two of the most dangerous and dynamic forwards in the Western Hockey League. Merkley is the playmaker, and the Arizona Coyotes drafted him in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft because of it. This season Merkley has 38 points in 35 games and is a +8. Chartier on the other hand is a San Jose Sharks prospect and he has eight goals and five assists for 13 points in just 14 games played this season. Both players surpassed 80 points a season ago, and both can take over a game at a moments notice. Keeping those two in check will be crucial tonight as well for Prince George.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars are coming into tonight’s game with an overall record of 27-16-1-1. Their 56 points has them 14 points ahead of their pace from a season ago, and their road record is 12-8-1-0. The Cougars have won four straight games on the road and the last time they played the Kelowna Rockets they earned a 2-1 victory at Prospera Place back on October 30th. A victory tonight for the Cougars would be big as the Cougars haven’t defeated the Rockets more than twice in a season since the 2010-11 season. In the past five seasons the Cougars are 8-27-0-1 against them and are 5-13 against them at Prospera Place.
Who’s Up Front:
Saturday night in Vancouver, Cougars forward Brad Morrison took over the game. He scored a goal in the first and two in the third to cement his first career WHL hat-trick. Now with 17 goals and 37 points in the season, Morrison sits alone in second place in team scoring behind both Chase Witala and Jesse Gabrielle. So far this season, Morrison has a goal and an assist against the Rockets in four games and he and his linemates Jared Bethune and Jansen Harkins have the potential on any given night to dominate a game offensively. Tonight on the road they’ll no doubt be looked upon to do so again because as Mark Holick likes to remind us: “When your best players play their best, you stand a great chance to win.”
Who’s on D:
Defensively it was great to see the Cougars bounce back Saturday after a tough outing on Wednesday against Seattle at home. The most impressive stat perhaps from Saturday was the fact that the Cougars only surrendered four shots against in the third period, on the road in a game that they trailed heading into that final frame. Offensively they got contributions from the usual suspects in Tate Olson and Joe Carvalho, but defensively the team really rallied around one another when Josh Anderson had left the game with an injury. Shaun Dosanjh and Shane Collins were asked to play some big and physical minutes and they did not disappoint. Tonight they will no doubt be tasked to do the same against a Kelowna team with loads of speed and fire power.
Who’s in Goal:
Ty Edmonds LOVES to play the Kelowna Rockets, especially in Kelowna. Some of his best outings have occurred at Prospera Place, and it’s no coincidence that when he plays well in Kelowna, the Cougars seem to win. Last season both of the Cougars victories came against the Rockets on the road and Edmonds was named the first star of both. This season he’s 2-1 against Kelowna with a .955 save percentage, a 1.50 goals-against-average and one shutout. Simply put: The Cougars need a big effort tonight from their netminder as they look to leapfrog the Royals and inch closer to the Rockets for B.C. Division supremacy.
The Prince George Cougars will not win tonight in Kelowna without discipline. Saturday night in Vancouver the Cougars to kill off eight penalties, which is too many against anyone, especially against a team like the Rockets who boast so much skill. It’s tough though because the Rockets always seem to do such a great job of generating penalties against. But on the other hand the Cougars power play has to be feeling great about it’s progress having scored three times on five opportunities Saturday against the Giants. If the Cougars can take advantage of their power play chances while limiting the opportunities for the Rockets, they are going to give themselves an excellent chance to win tonight’s game.