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GAME PREVIEW: GM #24 Cougars vs. Saskatoon Blades

COUGARS LOOK TO FINISH HOME STAND ON WINNING NOTE AGAINST BLADES

The Prince George Cougars (10-10-1-2) conclude their five-game home stand against the Saskatoon Blades (14-8-2-0) on TransCanada Heroes Night at the CN Centre. The Cougars snapped a mini two-game losing streak on Friday, downing the Regina Pats 5-3. Jackson Leppard (short-handed), Joel Lakusta, Josh Maser, Ethan Browne (power-play) and Josh Curtis (empty-net) scored in the win. Isaiah DiLaura stopped 30 of 33 shots for his fourth win of the season. The Cougars have split the first four games of the home stand and are 6-7-0-1 at the CN Centre this season. The Blades are kicking-off their five-game biennial B.C. Division road trip. After tonight, the Blades visit the Vancouver Giants on Tuesday, the Victoria Royals on Wednesday, the Kamloops Blazers on November 30th and the Kelowna Rockets on December 1st.

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COUGARS PRE-SCOUT: The Cougars picked up their 10th win of the season Friday, holding off the Regina Pats. After leading 2-0 after the first, Regina’s Nick Henry scored a natural hat-trick in a back and forth second period. Josh Maser and Ethan Browne scored in that middle frame, as the Cougars led 4-3 after 40-minutes. Josh Curtis added an empty-net goal in the third period. Isaiah DiLaura earned his fourth win, stopping 30-shots and now is 4-3-0-1 on the season. The attention shifts to the high-flying Saskatoon Blades. The Blades come into tonight’s game sitting second in the East Division. Tonight, is the first and only meeting between the two teams this season. The Cougars dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Blades last season in Saskatoon. This is the Blades first visit to Prince George since Oct 22nd, 2016, a 2-1 win for the Cougars. Vladislav Mikhalchuk leads the Cougars in scoring with 17 points (4-13-17), followed by Cole Moberg (7-8-15) and Josh Maser (7-6-13). Matéj Toman is the Cougars’ top scoring rookie with eight points (3-5-8). Moberg and Maser are tied for the team goal-scoring lead, as each have seven goals. Taylor Gauthier will get the start tonight and leads the team in game played (17), minutes played (985), wins (6) and saves (470). Gauthier and Isaiah DiLaura each have one shutout. Gauthier is looking for his first win since his shutout on November 3rd against Seattle. Through 23-games this season, the Cougars are just ahead of last year’s pace. In the 2017-2018 season, the Cougars were 9-10-2-2 through 23-games. The Cougars are 2-1-0-0 against the East Division this season. Last season, the Cougars were 1-4-0-1 against the East Division. The Cougars have won their last two home games against Saskatoon. They won 2-1 on October 22nd, 2016 and 4-3 on December 9th, 2014. The Blades last win (4-0) in Prince George came on November 16th, 2012. A win tonight, coupled with a Victoria loss, and the Cougars will have sole possession of second place in the B.C. Division.

BLADES PRE-SCOUT: The Blades are 14-8-2-0 through 24-games this season. They’ve been road warriors, winning eight of their first 13 road games this season. After this B.C. Division road trip, the Blades will have played 18 of their first 29 games on the road. The Blades are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes at home on Wednesday. The Blades are second in the East Division, eight points back of the Prince Albert Raiders and four points up on the Moose Jaw Warriors. Kirby Dach leads the Blades in scoring with 39 points (13-26-39), followed by defenceman Dawson Davidson (4-21-25) and fellow forward Max Gerlach (14-9-23). Dach is one of seven WHL players listed as an ‘A’ prospect by NHL Central Scouting, in their November “Players to Watch” list. Dach played for Team WHL in the CIBC Canada Russia series. Dach and goaltender Nolan Maier were teammates with the Cougars’ Taylor Gauthier, who won gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August. Maier is rated as a ‘C’ prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft, along with defenceman Emil Malysjev. Speaking of international duty, defenceman Aidan De La Gorgendiere and forward Kyle Crnkovic played on Team Canada Black at the World Under-17 Challenge. The Blades have won four of their last five games and six of their last 10.

COUGARS LEADERS

Goals: (7) Josh Maser, Cole Moberg

Assists: (13) Vladislav Mikhalchuk

Points: (17) Vladislav Mikhalchuk

Power-Play Goals: (3)  Cole Moberg

Short-handed Goals: (1) Jackson LeppardTyson Upper

PIMS: (53) Austin Crossley

 

BLADES LEADERS

Goals: (14) Max Gerlach

Assists: (26) Kirby Dach

Points: (39) Kirby Dach

Power-Play Goals: (6)  Max Gerlach

Short-handed Goals: (1) Eric Florchuk, Gary Haden

PIMS: (58) Riley MacKay

 

COUGARS FOCUS

  1. Another Night, Another Top Line: The Blades have a threatening trio in Kirby Dach, Eric Florchuk and Max Gerlach. All three are in the top four in team scoring. Dach leads the Blades in assists and points. Gerlach leads the team in goals and Florchuk is third in assists. Last night, the Cougars had the task of going up against Regina’s dynamic duo of Jake Leschyshyn and Nick Henry. Henry did notch a hat-trick but the Cougars ended Leschyshyn’s 12-game point streak. After these three, the scoring drops off a bit for the Blades. Can the Cougars contain the Blades top unit and test their depth?
  2. Goaltending Battle: Assuming Saskatoon’s Nolan Maier starts, tonight is a much anticipated goaltending match up between Taylor Gauthier and Nolan Maier. Both have been billed as two of the top goaltenders in their age group (2001-born) and have had a lot of attention going back to the Bantam level. In the 2016 Bantam Draft, it was Gauthier picked 9th overall, followed by Maier who was selected 25th. They were teammates at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, Gauthier coming into the gold medal game in relief of Maier and backstopping Canada to a 6-2 win over Sweden. Both have had solid starts to their seasons. Gauthier is 6-7-1-0, with a .904 save percentage and one shutout. Maier is 12-6-1-0, owning a .913 save percentage and he too has one shutout. No doubt these two are sizing one another up tonight, wanting to out duel the other. Whoever wins this battle, will win the game.
  3. Out of the Gate: The Cougars had a strong start last night, scoring twice in the opening period. More importantly, they never trailed in Friday’s game. This is a team constructed on playing a well structured game and not a run-and-gun type that can rally from early deficits. Attacking is still key, as the Cougars are a handful when they have a well established fore-check. They’re also pretty good at playing with a lead, owning a  6-3-1-1 record when leading after the first and are7-0-0-1 when leading after 40-minutes. Can thy get out to a start like Friday’s and put the Blades on their heels?
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