Cougars Royals Preview.
As the month of February comes to a close, the Prince George Cougars are getting set for easily their most important regular season weekend to date. Tonight the Cougars welcome their B.C. Division rivals from Victoria for the first of back-to-back games at the CN Centre. Heading into the game tonight the Cougars are two points back of the eighth placed Tri-City Americans, meaning a win can get the Cougars into a tie, provided they get the appropriate help. Standing in the Cougars way though is a red-hot Royals team who are currently in the midst of a franchise record-breaking season.
Dave Lowry’s Victoria Royals are rolling. With a record of 43-17-1-3 the Royals are sitting comfortably in the third place overall in the Western Conference standings and second in the B.C. Division. So far this season Victoria is 5-1 against the Cougars and 1-1 against them at the CN Centre.
WHO’S UP FRONT:
Over the course of his 260 game career, Royals forward Branden Magee has absolutely feasted on the Prince George Cougars. In 28 career games, Magee has totalled 10 goals and 32 points, 10 of which have already come this season in just six games played. Magee leads all Royals in scoring with 58 points in 57 games played this season and also leads the team with 36 assists. It goes without saying that the Cougars need to key in on Branden Magee this weekend.
WHO’S ON D:
Say what you will about the Rockets and Winterhawks having a terrific crop of defenceman. The fact is that the Royals are on a similar playing field with both of those teams when it comes to skill, size and depth on the blueline. If you want size, you’ve got Keegan Kanzig and Jordan Fransoo. If you want skill, look no further than Travis Brown and Joe Hicketts. Brett Cote and Ryan Gagnon are also very capable at both ends of the ice. Add the fact that the Royals appear to be completely healthy throughout their lineup, which means that the Cougars are in for a definite battle here tonight.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Who would you rather face if you are PG? Patrik Polivka who is 8-0 lifetime against you? Or the goaltender with the best save percentage in the entire WHL in Coleman Vollrath (93.0 percent). Whoever gets the tap on the back tonight for Victoria gives them an excellent chance to win, and both provide a remarkable challenge for Mark Holick’s team. Obviously a major key for the Cougars will be to get shots on goal from anywhere and everywhere, and perhaps the biggest key for the Cougars will be to attack the net hard. Sure you might get hit, but it might just lead to a goal, and that makes taking punishment a heck of a lot easier.
Much like the Kelowna Rockets, the Victoria Royals don’t have that one offensive stud, but rather they beat you with depth. Sure they’ve got the likes of Branden Magee, Austin Carroll and Logan Nelson, but it runs much deeper than that. Victoria already has five players with 20-or-more goals, and Steven Hodges is only one goal away from reaching 20 himself. That means that defensively the Cougars need to stay sharp, disciplined and aggressive. They won’t win tonight unless they can make life difficult for the Royals offensively.
Mark Holick’s Prince George Cougars head into tonight’s game with an overall record of 26-32-3-5. Despite the 10 point improvement in their regular season record from a season ago, the Cougars still find themselves on the outside looking into the playoff dance. With Tri-City’s shootout loss on Wednesday, the Cougars now sit two points back. A win tonight plus a Tri-City regulation loss in Everett would get the Cougars back into an eighth placed tie, but Tri-City still has three games in hand on them after tonight. The Cougars need wins and tonight will be as strong a test as any.
WHO’S UP FRONT:
20-year-old forward Todd Fiddler comes into tonight’s game on the verge of becoming just the third Prince George Cougar to ever reach the 90-point mark. With 42 goals and 89 points on the season, Fiddler is six points away from matching Trent Hunter’s mark of 95 points in a season, which is the second highest point total for a Prince George Cougar ever, falling short of Quinn Hancock’s 112 point season in 1998. More importantly though, the Cougars will need Fiddler and his fellow forwards to try and light the lamp against a very stingy Victoria Royals team. Sure it will be tough, but nothing good ever comes easy right?
WHO’S ON D:
With the first Cougars goal of the game on Tuesday, rookie defenceman Sam Ruopp is now second on the team in goals for a defenceman with four. Ruopp came into this season as a bit of an offensive-unknown considering the fact that his big brother Harrison only ever scored three career goals in the WHL in 214 games, and earned his way into an NHL contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. For Ruopp, the sky appears to be the limit, and hopefully Ruopp can shine this weekend against a tough Victoria team.
WHO’S IN GOAL:
Neither Ty Edmonds or Brett Zarowny really did much to solidify themselves as the clear starter for the first game this weekend after Tuesday’s 9-5 loss, and all the while Adam Beukeboom is a bit of an unknown as well. The advantage that the Cougars do have right now is that they have three goaltenders who are all competing for the limelight. With six games left in the regular season, one of these goaltenders needs to deliver an ‘A Grade’ performance or two in a row. The Cougars will not win this weekend if their goaltender(s) don’t match the effort across the way.
Pay. The. Price. Victoria is a big and physical team that are healthy and clicking on all cylinders right now. The Cougars can’t afford to take any shortcuts against a team like Victoria or they will get burned. In order to be successful this weekend the Cougars will need to skate, finish checks and capitalize on their chances when they get them. There is no other way to put it, the Cougars need all hands on deck. If they get contributions from everybody, they’ll give themselves more than a chance this weekend.
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