PREVIEW: COUGARS AT BLAZERS (GAME #71)
The fate of the B.C. Division (tonight anyway) rests on the shoulders of the Prince George Cougars. Simply put: Any combination of three points over the next two games for Prince George would earn them their first ever B.C. Division title. Coming into this weekend they are two points up on the Kelowna Rockets and each team has four available points left. Tonight at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops the Cougars will battle their closest WHL rivals in the most significant regular season hockey game that the Cougars have played potentially ever.
Home Record: 26-8-1-0
Last Game: A 4-3 come-from-behind victory last Saturday at home against Vancouver
Goals For/Goals Against: 240 GF/194 GA
Power Play: 17.4% (19th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 83.9% (2nd in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Deven Sideroff (66GP – 36G – 42A – 78PTS), Rudolfs Balcers (64GP – 40G – 36A – 76PTS), Lane Bauer (69GP – 36G – 34A – 70PTS)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Collin Shirley: The Kamloops captain has five goals and an assist in six games this season against the Cougars which is tied for the most points among the Blazers against PG. For the season he has 27 goals and 33 assists for 60 points.
Rudolfs Balcers: The impressive rookie sits third among all WHL rookies in scoring with 40 goals and 36 assists. In six games against the Cougars, Balcers has two goals and four assists which is tied with Shirley for the team lead against PG.
WHO’S ON D:
Joe Gatenby: With seven goals and 31 assists for 38 points, the veteran defenceman leads all Blazers in scoring from the back-end. He’s a +9 this season and logs mega minutes in all situations for the Blazers. Having played a lot of big games in recent seasons for Kelowna, he’s no stranger to high stakes hockey and that veteran leadership should pay off big-time this weekend.
Ondrej Vala: The Dallas Stars prospect has 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points and is a +12. He’s a very steady, dependable defenceman who can kill penalties and log big minutes against the opposing team’s top guns. The Cats can expect a steady dose of Vala here tonight.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Connor Ingram: It’s been either feast or famine for Connor Ingram against the Cougars this season. He’s 2-3 against the Cats with a shutout victory, but he’s also been pulled from two games. Despite some recent struggles against Prince George, Ingram is still one of the elite goaltenders in the WHL and his 2.43 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage with five shutouts proves that.
Make Them Earn It: The Kamloops Blazers were outscored 14-5 by the Cougars earlier this month in Prince George. The Blazers will no doubt remember the sting of that weekend, and would love nothing more than to foil the Cougars B.C. Division plans with a victory in regulation time here tonight. The Blazers are excellent at home (26-8-1-0) and they aren’t about to lay down and make things easy on the Cougars who are 1-1-1-0 in Kamloops this season.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS
Road Record: 22-11-2-0
Last Game: A 4-3 victory in Spokane on Saturday night.
Goals For/Goals Against: 249 GF/198 GA
Power Play: 18.0% (16th in WHL)
Penalty Kill: 83.1% (3rd in WHL)
Leading Scorers: Jansen Harkins (62GP – 21G – 51A – 72PTS), Nikita Popugaev (69GP – 29G – 38A – 67PTS), Radovan Bondra (60GP – 32G – 31A – 63PTS)
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Radovan Bondra: With 13 points in his past seven games, Radovan Bondra continues to provide steady and reliable offense for the Cougars. Though he was held scoreless Saturday in Spokane he did a great job generating offence and he along with Jansen Harkins and Colby McAuley continue to thrive alongside one another.
Jared Bethune: Had a goal and an assist for the Cougars last Saturday in Spokane and has goals in each of his past two games. Now sitting at 22 goals and 48 total points, Bethune needs just two more to become the seventh Cougar to reach the 50 point mark this season.
WHO’S ON D:
Brendan Guhle: Since returning to the lineup after his injury, Guhle has two goals and six assists for eight points in his past five games. He’s been dominant and a huge reason for the Cougars confidence and success as of late. Look for him to further elevate his game this weekend in two huge games for the Cougars.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Ty Edmonds: The 20-year-old is running out of milestones to achieve! The Cougars all-time wins leader, saves leader and games played leader could be in line for his 100th career WHL victory should he defeat Kamloops either tonight or tomorrow. Edmonds brings a record of 30-16-2-2 to the weekend with a 2.55 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage.
How bad Do you Want It?: With Kelowna losing Wednesday to Everett the Cougars are now back in complete control of their B.C. Division destiny. Can they band together and seize the moment and the opportunity? In an already historic season, the Cougars can further cement their 2016-17 legacy with a big road ‘W’ tonight in Kamloops, which would make tomorrow’s regular season finale in Prince George all the more exciting.