Cougars Aim for Fifth Straight Win.
After going 4-2 on their Saskatchewan/Manitoba road swing, the Prince George Cougars are back at home, and will kick off a stretch of four games in six nights tonight against Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels. For the first time since 2010-2011, the Cougars have won four straight games, and tonight they’ll look to extend that streak against a Red Deer team playing their third game in four nights.
Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels (as they always seem to be) are right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference standings. Though the standings show that the Rebels (27-23-1-3) are in eighth place, they are only two points shy of fifth in the conference and they are at a point in their season where every single point means something. The Rebels are winless in four games but are 1-0 against the Cougars so far this season.
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Leading the way for Red Deer this season is sophomore forward Conner Bleackley. Through 53 games, the talented winger has 24 goals, 59 points and 42 penalty minutes for Brent Sutter’s team. It’s a given that Bleakley is going to be selected in the 2014 NHL Draft, but the only question is: how high? Some have pegged him as a mid first-rounder while NHL Central Scouting listed Bleackley as number 31 for North American skaters in the mid-term rankings. He’s got points in each of his past three games and will be a key cog in the Rebels offense this weekend.
WHO’S ON D:
Bleackley won’t be the only Red Deer Rebel selected high in the 2014 NHL Draft. He will no doubt be joined by defenceman Haydn Fleury. Checking in at 6’3” and 198 pounds, Fleury combines size and skill and currently sits fourth in team scoring and first among Rebels defencemen. NHL Central Scouting had Fleury listed as the sixth top North American skater for the 2014 draft in the mid-term rankings, and you can bet that Fleury will see a ton of ice-time against the Cougars top guns.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Between the pipes the Red Deer Rebels are set with the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year, Patrik Bartosak once again putting forth a strong season. The 20-year-old’s numbers this season don’t quite rival the ones from a year ago, but Bartosak still has a .923 save percentage with a winning record and a more-than-respectable GAA of 2.78. His backup is rookie Taz Burman who actually beat the Cougars back in November in Alberta.
Having dropped four straight, and two straight on the road, the Rebels will now be looking to salvage some points from an otherwise tough start to their road trip. The Rebels are a very hard-working and balanced club that is going to make you earn your breaks. A major key for the Rebels tonight will be a fast start, and not getting down early if things don’t go their way.
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars come into tonight’s game with an overall record of 22-26-2-5. They are 6-3-0-1 in their last 10 games, and have closed the gap to six points on the eighth placed Tri-City Americans and have also brought the Everett Silvertips back within their sights as well. Obviously a lot still has to go right for the Cougars to sneak into the top eight, but as long as they keep gaining points and winning games, they will give themselves a legitimate chance.
WHO’S UP FRONT:
What can one say about Todd Fiddler that hasn’t been said already? The 20-year-old forward has been truly remarkable this season for the Prince George Cougars, and earlier this week he was rewarded with ‘WHL Player of the Month’ honors. Fiddler had 16 goals in 14 January games, and he also added 13 assists in that span. If the Cougars want to make a run at the playoffs, Fiddler will need to continue his steady point production, and here’s hoping he’s got some more magic up his sleeve this weekend against Red Deer.
WHO’S ON D:
With at least one point in each of his past four games, Marc McNulty continues to play some of his best hockey for the Prince George Cougars as of late. The 6’6” Detroit Red Wings prospect has really rounded out his game in 2014, and a lot of that might have to do with the improvement of the guys around him as well. Sure he logs the most minutes out of any defender, but the addition of Wil Tomchuk coupled with the improvement of Tate Olson, Sam Ruopp and Joe Carvalho has to help McNulty’s mindset, making him realize that he doesn’t have to be ‘everything to everybody’ on the backend.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Decisions, decisions! Both Ty Edmonds and Adam Beukeboom are coming off of strong performances in goal and each are deserving of the nod here tonight against Red Deer. Whoever gets the tap on the back tonight will need to be in top form, because they will be going head-to-head with one of the league’s best in Patrik Bartosak. Goaltending will be a major factor in this weekend’s games, and hopefully Edmonds or Beukeboom are both up to the task.
Winning four in a row is not easy to do in this league, particularly for a Prince George Cougars team who hasn’t won four straight since 2010-2011. Now the Cougars need to set their sights on even loftier goals. Complacency simply cannot be accepted tonight for the Cougars. Four is fine, but FIVE is almost a necessity given the Cougars position in the standings. A win tonight would give the Cougars even more confidence, and I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt the confidence of the fan base either. Tonight’s going to be a good one, and hopefully the Cougars can rise to the challenge that Brent Sutter’s team posseses.
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