PREVIEW: GM #41 Cougars (11-22-3-4) vs. Winnipeg ICE (25-15-1-0)

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LAST GAME: The Prince George Cougars earned their first win of their road trip Saturday, knocking off the Saskatoon Blades 4-1 at SaskTel Centre. Josh Maser scored twice, and Jonny Hooker and Connor added singles. Taylor Gauthier earned his eighth win of the season, stopping 29 of 30 shots. The power-play went 1-5 and the penalty-kill was 2-2. Saturday was the Cougars’ first win against the Blades since October 22nd, 2016 (2-1). The Cougars are 5-2-2-1 in their last 10 and have points in three-straight games (1-0-1-1).

TONIGHT: Tonight, is the Cougars 41st game of the season and their record is 11-22-3-4, sitting fifth in the B.C. Division. The Cougars are eight points out of a wildcard playoff spot in the Western Conference. This is their first and only game against the Winnipeg ICE in the regular season. In fact, this is the first game in Winnipeg in Prince George Cougars franchise history. Prince George snapped a four-game road losing streak with their win in Saskatoon Saturday. They were 0-1-2-1 in their previous four road games before Saturday.

PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS (11-22-3-4 27 PTS) Winnipeg ICE (25-15-1-0)
HOME: 6-11-1-2 | AWAY: 5-11-2-2 HOME: 14-7-0-0 | AWAY: 11-8-1-0
POWER-PLAY 26/154 16.9% 18th POWER-PLAY 37/139 20.7% 9th
PENALTY-KILL 33/140 76.4% 17th PENALTY-KILL 36/132 72.7% 22nd
LAST 10 5-2-2-1 STREAK 1-0-1-1 LAST 10 7-3-0-0 STREAK 1-0-0-0

SEASON SERIES: Tonight, is the first and only meeting between these two teams in the WHL regular season. The Cougars went 2-3-1-0 against the East Division last season. Last season, the Cougars beat the ICE on October 14th, 2018 2-1 in overtime in Cranbrook, BC. Ilijah Colina scored the overtime winner and former Cougar, and current ICE forward, Jackson Leppard scored in regulation for Prince George. On their last East Division road trip during the 2017-2018 season, Prince George went 1-4-0-1 in the six games. The Victoria-Prince George Cougars franchise haven’t played a Winnipeg-based WHL team since the 1983-1984 season.

HOMECOMING: Three Cougars are playing in their hometown tonight. Goaltender Tyler Brennan and forward Jonny Hooker are from Winnipeg and defenceman Marco Creta is from nearby Oak Bluff. 16-year-old Brennan is making his first start in his hometown. Creta started the season with the ICE and Hooker has played in Winnipeg this season already with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

SCOUTING REPORT: The ICE have been, if not are the best team in the WHL since December. Since December 4th the ICE have won 11 of their last 15 games and sit first in the East Division; they hold the tie-breaker over Prince Albert. One of, if not the biggest key to their turnaround has been in goal. Since acquiring 20-year-old goaltender Liam Hughes, the ICE are 10-3-0-0 in the 13 games he has played and they’re surrendering only 2.31 goals-against per game in those 13 games. He’s been quite the story in Winnipeg. Their offence is lethal but they’re now getting solid goaltending and that’s reflected in their assent to the top of the East Division.

Winnipeg boasts a lot of young talent on their roster, which includes Vegas Golden Knights 1st-round draft pick Peyton Krebs, Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Michal Teply, NHL Draft prospect Connor McClennon, defenceman Carson Lambos and former Cougar Jackson Leppard.

Leppard was traded by the Cougars to the ICE on October 19th. Since the trade, Leppard has 25 points (14-11-25) in 31 games. He’s fit in nicely in their top-six.

LINE UP: Winnipeg native Tyler Brennan gets the start in the Cougars crease. The 16-year-old is looking to bounce back from his last start, where he surrendered five goals on 35 shots in a 5-2 loss to Everett January 4th. Brennan has a 3-3-0-0 record, 2.94 goals-against average, and a .901 save percentage. Defenceman Marco Creta will miss tonight’s game due to an illness and so too will forward Brendan Boyle. Newly added defenceman Aiden Reeves should take Creta’s spot on the blue-line.

STREAKS: Jack Sander is riding a six-game point streak entering tonight’s game. Sander has seven points (1-6-7) over those six games. Josh Maser snapped a six-game goalless streak with his two goals Saturday against Saskatoon. Vladislav Mikhalchuk’s four-point night against the Blades matches his  career single-game high. The Cougars have scored a power-play goal in each of their last six games (6-22).

COUGARS’ FOCUS: More of what they have been doing on this trip. The Cougars haven’t dropped a game in regulation yet on this trip and have five wins in their last 10 games. They were consistent in all three periods against Saskatoon and they’ll need more of that against a very dangerous Winnipeg team. Structure, on their size of the red line, will be critical against an offensively minded team like Winnipeg’s. Prince George can’t let Winnipeg open the game up.

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