Preview: ICE at Cougars (GM #29)
The Prince George Cougars continue their five-game home stand tonight when they host the Central Division’s Kootenay ICE, at the CN Centre tonight. The Cougars ended their five-game winless streak on Saturday and in resounding fashion, beating the Vancouver Giants 6-2. The ICE are coming off a shutout win, their first of the year, against the Kamloops Blazers Sunday afternoon.
The Cougars picked up their first win since November 18th Saturday, thumping the Giants to earn the weekend split; Vancouver won 5-3 Friday. The Cougars also picked up their fifth home win of the season and they’re 5-8-2-0 at the CN Centre coming into tonight’s game.
Six different Cougars scored in the win over the Giants, with Jared Bethune leading the way with three points (1-2-3). Aaron Boyd and Ethan O’Rourke scored 18-seconds apart in the first period to grab the Cougars a 2-1 lead through 20-minutes. Brogan O’Brien scored on a penalty-shot, short-handed, midway through the second, which turned out to be the game winner. Bethune, Josh Curtis and Joel Lakusta scored in the third period. Taylor Gauthier picked up his third win of the season, stopping of 22 of 24 shots.
These two teams only met once last season, back on October 26th, 2016, with the Cougars winning 5-2 in Cranbrook. Tonight is Kootenay’s first game in Prince George in nearly two years, as their last visit was December 8th, 2015. In the last five years, they’ve played each other three times, with the Cougars winning three.
The Cougars are looking to post back-to-back wins for the first time in over two weeks, as they try to make up ground in the very competitive BC Division. Prince George comes into tonight’s game two points back of the Kamloops Blazers for fourth, and four points back of the third-place Vancouver Giants. The Cougars are only three points out of a wildcard berth.
It was an off-season of change for the Kootenay ICE, as they ushered in a new era in Cranbrook. New ownership came in, as Greg Fettes bought the ICE from the Chynoweth family and the team went under a physical and cosmetic change. New GM Matt Cockell hired former NHL player & coach James Patrick as the ICE’s new head coach, but the team also went under a transformation, debuting a new logo and colours. The changes seem to have done some good too.
After winning just 14 of 72 games a season ago, the ICE are just a win way from matching last year’s total. They come into tonight’s contest sitting third place in the Central Division with a 13-15-1-0 record. Through 29 games last year, the ICE were just 5-17-6-1. They’re tied in points with the second-place Lethbridge Hurricanes and are only six points back of the Medicine Hat Tigers for top spot in the Central.
The ICE are currently on their season-long five-game road trip through the BC Division. So far, they’ve split their first two games, losing in Kelowna 5-2 Saturday, but rebounding Sunday to shutout the Kamloops Blazers 4-0; their first shutout win of the season. After tonight, the ICE make their way down to Victoria to face the Royals on Friday, before wrapping up their road trip against Vancouver on Saturday.
It was a much needed win and much improved effort for the Cougars on Saturday, as they came back from an early 1-0 deficit to win 6-2 over the Giants. Vancouver tied it 2-2 early in the second but the Cougars countered with four unanswered goals in the final 30-minutes. Though they didn’t score first, the Cougars did lead after the first period, which turned out to be pretty crucial, as they’re now 7-1-1-0 when leading after the opening 20-minutes.
Prince George did get some bad news as leading scorer Kody McDonald will miss the next three games due to suspension. McDonald was given the three-game ban after the league office ruled a one-man fight situation against the Giants’ Tyler Benson. A blow to the Cougars, no question, as McDonald leads the team in goals (15), points (27), power-play goals (5) and game-winning goals (4). McDonald will also miss the upcoming two-game set against Victoria. Yes, McDonald’s absence will be felt but the team has others that can step up and help fill the void. The Cougars line-up will have different look to it without number 26 in.
One of those players that can help out with the offence and the power-play is Dennis Cholowski. He has points in six-straight games (2-5-7) and has picked up a point in seven of his last eight. he’s third in team scoring and 11th among defencemen in the WHL.
Taylor Gauthier will get his second straight start after his 22-save performance on Saturday. The 16-year-old was very sharp against the Giants and that clearly didn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff. Gauthier’s numbers continue to trend in the right direction, as he comes into the game with a 3-5-0-1 record, sporting a 3.03 goals-against average and owns a .889 save percentage.
The ICE have a bright 16-year-old prospect on their roster in Peyton Krebs. The Okotoks, Alberta, product is third in team scoring with five goals and 22 points in 24 games. Krebs also won a silver medal at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge with Team Canada Red. Krebs was the first overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, nine picks before the Cougars took Taylor Gauthier 10th.
Kootenay’s Duncan McGovern picked up the 27-save shutout against the Blazers and has terrific numbers this season. the 17-year-old is 3-2-0-1 on the season, with 2.12 goals-against average and a sparkling .926 save percentage. Bailey Brkin has had the bulk of starts in the Kootenay net but you’d think after his performance Sunday, McGovern gets the nod once again tonight.