Preview: Cougars Battle Blazers on Lumberjack Night
Tonight… The Prince George Cougars are back home after their six-game East Division road trip that took them through Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Cougars went 1-4-0-1 in their six games against Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Swift Current, Regina, Brandon and Moose Jaw. Tonight, is the Cougars first home since January 20th, when they scored a 4-2 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. It’s also the first game between the Cougars and the Kamloops Blazers since November 25th, when the Blazers earned a 4-3 win on home ice; it’s the Blazers first trip to Prince George since October 14th. The Cougars come into the weekend doubleheader with a 10-12-3-1 record at the CN Centre.
The Last Game… The Cougars are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors last Saturday, in their finale of their six-game East Division road trip. Josh Maser scored the Cougars only goal on the power-play in the third period, and Taylor Gauthier made 44-saves and was named the third star.
Season Series… Tonight, is the sixth of 10 meetings between the Cougars and Blazers and first since October. The Cougars have won two of five thus far against Kamloops, with both wins coming on the road. The Blazers won both games in Prince George on October 13th and 14th, and by identical 4-1 scores. The Cougars picked up 6-2 and 5-4 wins in Kamloops On October 4th and November 15th; this is the first meeting since November 25th. The BC Division rivals meet again tomorrow night, before the Cougars travel down to Kamloops on February 17th. There’s a five-way tie for the Cougars scoring lead against the Blazers, as Chance Adrian, Aaron Boyd, Jared Bethune, Josh Curtis and Cole Moberg each have three points against Kamloops. Nick Chyzowski, Jermaine Loewen and Joe Gatenby each have six points against the Cougars this season. Connor Zary had a team-best three goals.
Cougars Tracks… The Cougars are finally home and they hope the comforts of home can steer them back into the win column. Prince George is coming off that 12-day prairie road trip and they hope the week at home can do them some good against a rival.
The Cougars were pretty beat up at the end of their six-game road trip but now at home, they have three-games to try and build momentum for the stretch drive in the WHL schedule. Coming into tonight, they have 18-games left in the regular season and another busy month ahead, with a four-game road trip coming up starting a week from tomorrow. After this weekend against Kamloops, and Monday’s game against Red Deer, the Cougars head out to play Kamloops, Kelowna, Spokane and Tri-City starting February 17th. With the next three games at home, it’s time to make hay.
Joel Lakusta is looking to carry his strong January into February. Lakusta had two goals and 13 points in 15 games, points in nine of those 15 games and had four multi-point games in January. Lakusta is third in team scoring with six goals and 30 points and has set career highs in goals, assists and points. He’s been a standout on a retooled blue-line since the WHL Trade Deadline.
Prince George will have a full roster at their disposal this weekend, as Vladislav Mikhalchuk is done serving his two-game suspension he picked up after the January 31st game against Regina. The Cougars will also have 16-year-old Brendan Boyle up for the weekend. Boyle, who signed with the team out of Training Camp, leads the Okanagan Rockets in scoring with 35 points in 29 games in the BC Major Midget League.
The Cougars goaltending has taken a step forward in the last handful of games, in particular the play of Isaiah DiLaura and Taylor Gauthier. DiLaura picked up his second career win last Friday in Brandon, and Gauthier is coming off that 44-save performance against Moose Jaw. The Cougars had been rotating their three goalies going into last weekend; no word on who starts tonight.
Scouting Report… The Kamloops Blazers are still in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the Western Conference, and there’s four big points up for grabs this weekend. The Blazers know they need to go on a run to track down Spokane and Seattle who occupy the final two playoff spots. The Blazers are nine points back of the Chiefs and Thunderbirds and both teams have a game in hand on Kamloops.
Kamloops has won six of their last 10 and have taken points out of seven of those games but are coming off a 3-1 loss to Spokane on Wednesday. After going on a five-game win streak from January 19th to 27th, the Blazers have stumbled, slightly, dropping three of their last four games (1-2-0-1). It’s a busy week ahead, as the Blazers play seven games over the next 10 days.
Joe Gatenby leads the Blazers in scoring with 45 points in 53 games, followed by Jermaine Loewen (25-17-42) and Quinn Benjafield (18-21-390. Loewen has picked up the slack left after the departure of top scorer Garrett Pilon, as the 19-year-old has 10 goals and 14 points since the big trade with Everett.
Dylan Ferguson has been the workhorse in goal for Kamloops, as the Vegas Golden Knights prospect has played in 42 of their 53 games and has played in four of five games against the Cougars, winning three of those. He’s third among starters in the WHL in goals-against average (2.96) and is ninth in save percentage (.908) with goals who have played a minimum of 20 games. If they get into the playoffs, it will be on the back of Ferguson.
Energy: Teams have been cursed by that let down that happens with the first home game after a long road trip. It’s happened before to the Cougars and they know they’ll need to have their legs against a Kamloops time that is trying to stay in the playoff conversation. As the saying goes, tonight is all about “will over skill.”