Cougars Host Rebels
Tonight at the CN Centre the Prince George Cougars return to action when they welcome the 2016 Mastercard Memorial Cup hosts, the Red Deer Rebels to town for the first of back-to-back games this weekend. Both teams are looking to put an end to their respective losing streaks and both teams have lengthy playoff aspirations. Considered by many to be a championship contender out of the East, the Red Deer Rebels should provide a swell litmus test tonight for Prince George.
RED DEER REBELS
Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels come into tonight’s game looking to put an end to their four game losing streak. Their overall record of 35-20-1-2 pts them second in the Central Division and third in the Eastern Conference. Heading into action tonight the Rebels are four points ahead of Calgary for second, and are eight points back of Lethbridge for first in the division. Their goal differential is +43 and last season against the Cougars they went 1-1. Both games were played in Red Deer. The Rebels are 1-3 in Prince George over the past five seasons.
Who’s Up Front:
The Red Deer Rebels can score. Of this, there is no doubt. They’ve got some of the best scoring depth in the entire WHL, let alone the Eastern Conference. Leading the charge for Red Deer is 19-year-old Ivan Nikolishin. The former Everett Silvertip leads all Rebels with 73 points in 58 games and has goals in back-to-back games heading into this weekend. A neat stat about Nikolishin: He’s never missed a game in the WHL. Now in his third full season, Nikolishin has appeared in 202 consecutive games. He’s got plenty of help offensively though as Adam Helewka, Jake DeBrusk, and Michael Spacek are all clicking at around a point-per-game.
Who’s on D:
Defensively the Red Deer Rebels are led by top Carolina Hurricanes prospect Haydn Fleury. The native of Carlyle, SK is enjoying a terrific fourth season in the WHL with nine goals and 24 assists for 33 points in 43 games. Fleury missed a chunk of time in December and January when he went to Finland to represent Team Canada at the 2015-16 World Juniors. When Haydn Fleury is at his best he brings a little bit of everything to the table. He’s responsible defensively, he skates well and he can put the puck in the net. Much like the forward corps, Fleury has no shortage of good help around him as veterans Colton Bobyk, Kale Doetzel and Nelson Nogier provide as strong a top-four as there is in the WHL.
Who’s in Goal:
The biggest dilemma facing the Red Deer Rebels right now is the long-term health of their number one goaltender Rylan Toth. The veteran Toth was recently injured and is still listed as ‘indefinite’ in the WHL’s weekly injury report. A tough blow considering that Toth is 26-15-0-1 this season. His backup Trevor Martin is certainly capable at 9-5-1-1 with a 2.90 goals-against-average and a .900 save percentage. Martin has started each of the first two games on this road trip and is 0-2 thus far having lost games in both Kelowna and Kamloops. Assuming Martin gets the nod again tonight. his backup tonight will be 1999-born netminder Dawson Weatherill, a second round pick by Red Deer in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft.
The Prince George Cougars were brilliant last weekend against Kelowna when it came to discipline and they’ll need a similar effort in that regard this week as they face a Red Deer Rebels team that is clicking at a 22.7 percent success rate on the power play, good enough for third in the entire WHL. Earlier in the article, the offensive depth of the Red Deer Rebels was highlighted, and if those skilled players get extra time and space it could mean bad news for the opposing team. Discipline will once be big for the Cougars as the Red Deer Rebels power play is certainly a major X-Factor to their success.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars come into this weekend with an overall record of 31-22-3-1. Their 66 points put them third in the B.C. Division four points ahead of the Kamloops Blazers for third in the B.C. Division. Though winless in their past five games, the Cougars haven’t played poorly, not by any stretch. Mark Holick has made it no secret this week that he’s been very pleased with his team’s attitude and effort in recent games and the only missing is the ‘finish.’ Over their past 10 games, the Cougars are 3-5-2-0 and the Cougars are 3-0-0-1 against the Rebels in games played in Prince George since 2011.
Who’s Up Front:
With 20 points over his past 11 games, Cougars forward Jesse Gabrielle continues to put up consistent points as he’s done all season long. Gabrielle is currently riding a four game point streak and during that span he’s notched three goals and six assists for nine points. Over his past 11 games, Gabrielle has seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points. He and Chase Witala have combined for 69 goals this season, and once again it will be Gabrielle and his linemates who will be expected to carry the load offensively tonight against Red Deer.
Who’s on D:
The Prince George Cougars got a boost to their back-end last weekend with the return of young defenceman Max Martin. The 16-year-old Winnipeg, MB product drew back into the lineup last Saturday after missing 55 consecutive games with an upper body injury and didn’t really miss a beat. He stepped right in against the top team in the WHL and did a fine job of simplifying his game, making the right plays and provided some valuable minutes to the Cougars albeit in a losing cause. The encouraging sign here is that Max Martin’s recovery went well and he’s ready and confident to make an immediate impact upon his return. He’s only going to get better as he gets his conditioning and confidence back up to the level that he’s become accustomed to over the years.
Who’s in Goal:
This weekend the Prince George Cougars need their goaltender(s) to rise up. Last weekend against the Kelowna Rockets the Cougars played well twice, and only managed to secure a single point. This is not a shot at the goaltending, as both Nick McBride and Ty Edmonds have stolen their share of games for the Cougars this season, and in the end the Cougars goaltending situation remains a major strength of this team. But both guys will be the first to admit that last weekend didn’t necessarily show their ‘best.’ But tonight against a high-powered Red Deer offense the Cougars need their goaltender to be a difference-maker. Whether it’s Ty Edmonds or Nick McBride who gets the nod, either guy will be tasked with the responsibility of making the necessary saves to give their team a chance to win. Often times it takes a great goaltending effort to get a team out of a losing skid and here’s hoping tonight’s starter can lead the way towards a Cougars victory tonight.
Tonight the Cougars will need all areas of their game to be clicking. Nobody can take a night off. They need to be disciplined, physical and responsible defensively. Offensively they need to hit the net and make good on their quality chances, and between the pipes they need their goaltender to step up and be counted. It won’t be just one or two guys that pull the Cougars back into the win column, it’s going to require all hands on deck and hopefully tonight the Cougars can embrace the challenge that the 2016 Memorial Cup hosts present them, and hopefully that allows them to play ‘their’ style of hockey which would help them surpass their win total and point total from a season ago.