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Preview: Cougars in Portland to renew rivalry with Winterhawks

Prince George Cougars (0-3-0-0) vs. Portland Winterhawks (2-0-0-0)

Veterans Memorial Coliseum  5:00 pm

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ROAD TRIP: The Cougars are in search of their first win as they make a stop in Portland Sunday afternoon, to face the Portland Winterhawks. Portland won their home opener Saturday night, a 6-2 decision over their neighbours to the north in the Seattle Thunderbirds. The Winterhawks have won both of their games to start the year, as they topped Everett 7-4 on September 23rd. Prince George is coming off a 5-1 setback against the T-Birds on Friday night. Dennis Cholowski scored in his Cougars’ debut, a third period power-play goal. After tonight, the Cougars head back across the border to face the Kamloops Blazers on Wednesday at the Sandman Centre.

COUGARS-WINTERHAWKS: A rivalry is renewed tonight, as the Cougars face the Winterhawks for the first time since their first-round playoff series last spring; Portland took that series in six. The two teams split the regular season series last year, as each side won twice and each won their two home games. The Cougars lost 6-3 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum last November. The Cougars come back to Portland in one month, on November 1st, before the four-game season series wraps up in Prince George on March 6th and 7th.

TRADE WINDS: The Cougars addressed their over-age situation this week by trading defenceman Tate Olson to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, in exchange for a third-round selection in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. Olson played in 252 career regular season games spanning four seasons with the Cougars, compiling 23 goals and 107 points, to go along with 236 penalty-minutes. The Saskatchewan product was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the seventh round, 210th overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft. Olson was originally selected by the Cougars in the second round, 24th overall, in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. With Olson moving on, the Cougars are now left with four 20-year-olds on their roster.

HE’S BACK: The Cougars blue-line was bolstered this week but the return of 19-year-old defenceman Dennis Cholowski from Detroit Red Wings Training Camp. Cholowski, the Red Wings first round selection in 2016, played in four pre-season games, picking up one assist and logging an average of 19-minutes of ice time. The Langley, BC, native played in one pre-season game for the Cougars in Red Deer, Alberta, earlier this month before taking off for Detroit. Cholowski scored in his debut on Friday, a five-on-three power-play in the loss to the T-Birds.

MCDONALD MILESTONE: 19-year-old Kody McDonald played in his 200th career regular season game on Friday in Seattle. McDonald made his WHL debut, as a 15-year-old, in the 2013-2014 season, playing against the Victoria Royals in a post-Christmas double header at Save on Foods Memorial Arena. The Lethbridge, Alberta, native has 41 goals and 90 points in his career with the Cougars. It was also a milestone for Ben Coppinger and Isaiah DiLaura on Friday. Coppinger played in his first WHL game and DiLaura dressed as the back-up to Taylor Gauthier. Both Coppinger and DiLaura signed with the Cougars out of Training Camp.

ROSTER BREAKDOWN: Currently the Prince George Cougars roster sits at 27 players: 15 forwards, 9 defencemen and three goaltenders. Among those 27 players, four are in their 20-year-old season, seven are in their 19-year-old season, six are in their 18-year-old season, nine are in their 17-year-old season and one is in their 16-year-old season. 15 of the 27 players on the roster were drafted by the Cougars in the WHL Bantam Draft, five players were acquired via trade, and eight were players added via the Cougars 50-man Protected List as free-agents.

WHL NEXT GENERATION- TAYLOR GAUTHIER: Cougars’ netminder Taylor Gauthier is one of the 22-players featured in the WHL’s Next Generation feature series on their website. The league profiled what they described as “22 potential future starts of the league” during the pre-season and Gauthier certainly has attracted attention. The Cougars’ First Round choice, 10th overall, in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft has had a very productive pre-season. In three appearances the Calgary, Alberta, native has fashioned together a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Prince George certainly has high hopes for Gauthier, who was the first goalie taken inside the 10 of the WHL Bantam Draft, since Carey Price went seventh overall to Tri-Cities in 2002. Last season, as a 15-year-old, Gauthier led his CBHA Midget AAA Buffalos to an Alberta Midget Hockey League regular season title. In 17 appearances with the Buffalos last season, Gauthier put up a 2.06 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. This past summer Gauthier was invited to the Hockey Canada’s U-17 Summer Development Camp.

NEW FACES, IN NEW PLACES: The Cougars will have 12 rookies on their current roster. Of those dozen, there’s some familiar names who have suited up for games with the Cougars in the past. On the blue-line, Jonas Harkins and Cole Moberg both played in regular season games last season. Moberg scored his first WHL goal on the road against the Vancouver Giants back on November 10th, of last year. Max Kryski also suited up for two regular season games a season ago for PG. Ethan O’Rourke and Tavin Grant are a pair of Cougars who are looking to gain full-time status after starting last season with the team. Both finished the season across town with the Spruce Kings in the BCHL, but both are looking to build off an impressive pre-season. 18-year-old O’Rourke led the Cougars with four goals and five points in the four-pre-season games. Grant yielded just two goals in three appearances, posting a 1.21 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage. It’s a three-way battle in the Cougars’ crease and Grant is looking to solidify the number one job, by caring over his strong pre-season into the games that count.

ALUMNI WATCH: The Cougars had a handful of players, past and present, at NHL Training Camps this month. Jesse Gabrielle had a goal in two games with the Boston Bruins before being re-assigned to the Providence Bruins of the AHL earlier this week. Jansen Harkins played at the YoungStars Tournament in Penticton for the Winnipeg Jets and now is in camp with their farm team, the Manitoba Moose. Brendan Guhle is in camp with the Rochester Americans, the farm club of the Buffalo Sabres. Colby McAuley is in camp with the San Jose Barracuda in the AHL, and former Captain Sam Ruopp recently committed to the University of Saskatchewan after a tryout with Calgary Flames. Nikita Popugaev attend New Jersey Devils camp, Josh Anderson was with the Colorado Avalanche and Cholowski with the Red Wings. Kody McDonald was a free agent invitee on the Winnipeg Jets YoungStars Tournament roster.

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