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Game Preview: GM #21 Cougars vs. Kamloops Blazers

COUGARS LOOK FOR THIRD-STRAIGHT WIN, HOST BLAZERS IN WEEKEND DOUBLE-HEADER

The Prince George Cougars (9-8-1-2) look to match their season-high three-game win streak tonight, as they open a weekend double-header against the Kamloops Blazers (6-9-1-1). It’s the second of three-straight B.C. Division games for the Cougars, who are coming off a 4-3 overtime win against the Kelowna Rockets on Wednesday. The Blazers haven’t played since November 11th, when they dropped a 5-2 decision to the visiting Everett Silvertips. Tonight and tomorrow afternoon are the first two games of a nine-game season series. The Cougars come into the weekend sitting second in the B.C. Division, seven points up on the Blazers who sit fifth.

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 COUGARS PRE-SCOUT: The Cougars came from behind to beat the Rockets 4-3 in overtime Wednesday. It was a sluggish start, as they were down 1-0 after 20-minutes, but rebounded with two goals in the second period from Cole Moberg and Matéj Toman (PP). However, they had a couple of hiccups in the third period, which allowed the Rockets to tie it and then take the lead on a short-handed goal. Vladislav Mikhalchuk had some late game heroics, tying it 3-3 with just 16-seconds left. Josh Maser then won it in OT, scoring with just six-seconds left, after a nice dish by Jackson Leppard on a two-on-one. Wednesday wasn’t the Cougars’ most consistent effort but it was a character win. They showed a lot of resilience by regrouping and tying it up late before winning in OT. A sign of growth perhaps? The Cougars may have not won that game earlier this season but now they’re growing more and more confident and that was evident in the late comeback. The Cougars come into the weekend double-header sitting second in the B.C. Division with nine wins and 21 points. Tonight and tomorrow afternoon are the first two of nine games against the Blazers this season. Last year, the Cougars were 4-5-0-1 against the Blazers in 10 games. The Cougars have won four of their last five games and have won three-straight at home (5-5-0-1). Vladislav Mikhalchuk leads the Cougars in scoring with 15 points (4-11-15), followed by Cole Moberg (6-8-14) and Josh Maser (6-6-12).  Taylor Gauthier leads the Cougars in games played (15), minutes played (887) and wins (6). He stopped 28 of 31 shots on Wednesday against the Rockets. His partner, Isaiah DiLaura, has been excellent this season, posting a 3-2-0-1 record, with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. Both DiLaura and Gauthier each have one shutout. The power-play is rolling along, as the Cougars have scored five power-play goals in their last five games (20 %). The Cougars are 13-11-1-3 in the last five years against the Blazers. They’re 6-5-0-3 in their last 14 home games against the Blazers. The Cougars are 4-5-1-1 against the B.C. Division this season.

BLAZERS PRE-SCOUT: The Blazers come into this weekend winless in their last four games (0-3-1-0). They dropped both games last weekend to the Everett Silvertips, losing 6-1 Friday and 5-2 Sunday. Starting tonight, the Blazers have three games in the next four days. After this weekend, the go back home for a game against the Regina Pats on Tuesday. The Blazers are also in a stretch that seems them play four of their next five on the road and if you look into December, 10 of their next 14 games before Christmas are away from the Sandman Centre. Despite their recent struggles, the Blazers can take comfort in the fact they’ve had quite a bit of success against Prince George recently, as they’ve won six of 10 games last year. The Blazers are 8-6-0-0 in their last 14 games in Prince George. In the last 5 years against the Cougars, the Blazers are 15-11-0-2. The Blazers are 2-4-0-1 against the B.C. Division. Zane Franklin, the former Lethbridge Hurricanes forward, leads the Blazers in scoring with 18 points (12-6-8) in 17 games. Franklin is followed by Nolan Kneen (3-13-16) and Orrin Centazzo (2-13-15). Jermaine Loewen loves playing the Cougars. In 9 games last year, Loewen had 15 points (7-8-15) against the Cougars; he was pointless just once in nine games. The 20-year-old forward was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Dylan Ferguson, signed by the Vegas Golden Knights, has had the bulk of games in net, playing 14 games this year and posting a 5-7-1-0 record, to go with a 3.74 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage. 16-year-old rookie Dylan Garand has been a nice surprise, the goaltender has a 2.51 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage in five games. Last year in Prince George, the Blazers were 5-0-0-0.

COUGARS LEADERS

Goals: (6) Josh Maser

Assists: (11) Vladislav Mikhalchuk

Points: (15) Vladislav Mikhalchuk

Power-Play Goals: (2) Joel Lakusta, Jackson Leppard, Cole Moberg

Short-handed Goals: (1) Tyson Upper

PIMS: (40) Austin Crossley

BLAZERS LEADERS

Goals: (12) Zane Franklin

Assists: (13) Orrin Centazzo, Nolan Kneen

Points: (18) Zane Franklin

Power-Play Goals: (5) Zane Franklin

Short-Handed Goals: (1) Zane Franklin, Nolan Kneen

PIMS: (25) Joonas Sillanpää

COUGARS FOCUS

  1. The Start: The Cougars didn’t like their first period on Wednesday against the Rockets. They gave up an early goal, just over three-minutes in, and muster just eight shots on goal. They didn’t have the jump they wanted. Thought they turned it around and won in OT, tonight this group will want to be much more engaged from puck drop. The first period has been their strongest this season, as they’ve outscored their opponents 22-11 in the opening frame. The Blazers have been outscored 18-16 in the first period and are just 2-7-0-0 when trailing after 20-minutes. The Cougars will need that fire in belly against a B.C. Division rival with four big points up for grabs this weekend.
  2. Slow Down the Jermaine Train: Blazers forward Jermaine Loewen loves playing the Cougars. Last year, he had 15 points (7-8-15) in nine games against the Cougars and 10 points  (4-6-10) in five games in Prince George. The 20-year-old is the Blazers top-line left-winger and is a guy they look to lead the offence. All 13 of his points this year have come in nine road games. Can the Cougars find a way to neutralize the Blazers top forward and not let the Jermaine train leave the station?
  3. Home Cooking: The Cougars are enjoying their best stretch at home, winning their last three, climbing back to 500 at 5-5-0-1. They’ve looked like a more confident group at home in the last two weeks and they’ll need that with two BIG home games against a team chasing them in the standings. Despite the seven point gap in the standings, the Cougars can’t take the Blazers lightly. The Blazers have been better on the road (4-4-o-1) than at home (2-5-1-0). The Cougars exuded a lot of confidence in that Seattle sweep two weeks ago. Can they find that magic again?
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