Cougars start 2013 with tough games
The Prince George Cougars are no strangers to adversity.
Beginning the new year with even more challenges and distractions, the Western Hockey League team will have a mountain to climb as they attempt to move from the playoff bubble to the middle of the pack.
The team hit the ice in practice this week with a short-staffed squad as players were out with injuries, sickness and other commitments. They’re also trying to deal Alex Forsberg, who requested a trade last month (see story below).
The schedule isn’t doing its part to assist the team. Their first opposition of 2013 is the red-hot Kelowna Rockets, who are jockeying with the Kamloops Blazers for the B.C. Division lead.
The Cougars welcome the Rockets to town for a doubleheader this weekend (tonight and Saturday, 7 p.m. at CN Centre).
“Obviously their record shows they’re one of the best teams in our division and in the conference,” Cougars forward Troy Bourke said on Wednesday. “They got a lot of skill up front and the D-men are very skilled as well, so we got a tough test this weekend and I’m looking forward to it.”
After meeting the Rockets, the Cougars will hit the road for a two-game set against the Portland Winterhawks, who lead the conference and U.S. Division with 32 wins, five losses, one overtime setback and zero shootout defeats (32-5-1-0). Then they return home for a CN Centre set against the Kamloops Blazers on Jan. 11 and 12.
Following the six-pack against conference opponents, the Cats visit Alberta for a three-game Central Division road swing. That set sees them play the Calgary Hitmen on Jan. 18, Red Deer Rebels on Jan. 19 and Edmonton Oil Kings on Jan. 20.
Portland, Kamloops, Kelowna and Edmonton were the WHL teams listed on this week’s Canadian Hockey League Top-10 rankings. Kamloops (26-10-2-2) and Kelowna (26-10-2-2) carried 26 wins each into games on Wednesday evening.
The Cougars, on the other hand, are ninth in the conference with a 12-20-1-4 mark. They’re coming off a winless three-game road weekend that included an 8-4 loss on Sunday against the Vancouver Giants, the only team below them in the 10-team standings.
“Opposition and travel, I think we’ve got some challenges ahead of us, there’s no doubt,” Cougars head coach Dean Clark said. “But we have to get back and there’s some things we have to get back in control as far as the way we play and all of those things. In order to give ourselves a chance in all of the games we play, we have to play a very smart, disciplined style of play that everybody understands and get people on board. I think we spent the last few days really hammering home the point about how we have to be as a group moving forward, and if we want to have success, there’s a certain way we got to be and that’s what we’re going to be.”
Clark called the effort in Vancouver awful.
“We just never got it going and we gave eight goals to a team that we should beat, so very disappointing.”
The defeat to the Giants followed a doubleheader against the Victoria Royals. The Royals downed the Cougars 5-1 on Friday and 4-3 in a shootout on Saturday.
Injuries – The Cougars’ long list of injuries this week included: forwards Jari Erricson (upper body), Jordan Tkatch (upper body) and Brett Roulston (lower body); and defencemen Joseph Carvalho (knee), Dallas Ehrhardt (upper body) and Raymond Grewal (upper body). Carvalho’s injury is long term, while the rest of the players could all be back in the lineup within the next couple of weeks. Clark doesn’t expect Erricson or Grewal will play this weekend.
Tournaments – Defenceman Rinalds Rosinskis was in Russia this week representing Latvia at the World Junior Hockey Championship. Forward Carson Bolduc and assistant coach Jason Becker travelled to Quebec to suit up for Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Rosinskis and Bolduc won’t return in time for the Kelowna set, but Clark is hopeful they’ll be back in the WHL next week.
Flu – Cougars goalie Brett Zarowny was battling the flu bug this week and was hoping to recover in time to play the Rockets.
Call-ups – Although no announcement was made regarding call-ups on Wednesday, Clark said they’d look into adding players for the weekend.
Trade Deadline – Another important date on the WHL calendar is quickly approaching. The league’s trade deadline is on Wednesday.
“The way we’ve played, the guys maybe should be wondering if they should (be with the Cougars) or not,” Clark said, “because our results haven’t been the way they should. We need to get guys in here that want to play hard every night for this organization and that’s the bottom line.”