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Preview: Cougars at Americans (GM #44)

The Prince George Cougars (16-20-4-3) conclude their two-game US Division road trip tonight in Kennewick, Washington, against the Tri-City Americans (22-14-5-0) at the Toyota Center. The Cougars are coming off a 6-2 loss in Spokane on Friday; the Americans dropped a 5-1 decision at home to Portland.

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Despite what the boxscore said, it was a strong showing from the Cougars last night in Spokane. The Cougars could argue they carried the play for the majority of the game, despite trailing 3-1 after one and 5-2 after two. They outshot the Chiefs 25-13 over the final two periods but just couldn’t find their scoring touch against Bailey Brkin and the Chiefs.

One highlight Friday was Liam Ryan scoring his first WHL goal in the first period, scoring five-hole on Brkin to make it 3-1 late. Another first on that goal was Ilijah Colina picking up his first point in his first game with his new team.

The short-staffed Americans lost at home to a loaded Portland Winterhawks squad Friday. It was scoreless after the first period but the Winterhawks scored three goals in the second and two more in the third. Tri-City did have newly acquired Jake Bean in the line up, but were missing defencemen Roman Kalinichenko, Jusso Valimaki, and forwards Michael Rasmussen, Maxwell James, Kyle Olson and Morgan Geekie; all out with injuries. That’s 48-goals out of the line up, including two of their top forwards in Geekie and Ramussen. Rasmussen won’t be back until the end of the month or early February, and Geekie was hurt in Prince George on January 6th and hasn’t played since. The Americans had two AP’s in their line up last night. Despite their rash of injuries, the Americans are still third in the US Division and only four points back of the first place Winterhawks.

The Cougars come into this game seven points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, as the Seattle Thunderbirds (the Cougars next opponent) sit in eighth with 46 points but they do have two-games in hand on the Cats. No question next week’s doubleheader against the Thunderbirds is big, as it will go a long way in determining the Cougars playoff picture, but as the saying goes, you have to walk before you run, and the Cougars need points out of tonight’s game. The Cougars do have a kind schedule, as the Thunderbirds are in Portland to face the high-flying Winterhawks tonight. Best case scenario? A win tonight and a T-Birds loss in Portland (in regulation) which narrows the gap down to five, and sets up a HUGE two-game set in Prince George starting Tuesday.

Prince George may have a few tweaks to tonight’s line-up and we may see newly acquired defenceman Cam MacPhee make his debut on the blue-line. MacPhee was acquired earlier this week from Medicine Hat for a seventh-round selection in the 2018 Bantam Draft. Tavin Grant is most likely starting for the Cougars tonight and has a win against the Americans; he started both games last weekend against Tri-City.

The two teams split a doubleheader in Prince George last weekend, the Cougars winning 4-3 Friday, with the Americans coming back to win 6-5 in a shootout last Saturday. Jared Bethune scored two goals in each of those two games and the Cougars power-play was red-hot against the Americans, going 4-7 in the two games.

 The Cougars are 7-11-1-2 on the road this season and 3-9-0-1 against the US Division. The Americans are 9-6-2-0 at home and 7-5-2-0 against the BC Division.

Head-to-Head

Jared Bethune 4-1-5 Jordan Topping 1-3-4
Jackson Leppard 1-3-4 Parker AuCoin 2-1-3
Josh Maser 1-3-4 Sasha Mutala 2-1-3
Joel Lakusta 0-4-4 Maxwell James 1-1-2
Aaron Boyd 1-0-1 Nolan Yaremko 1-1-2
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