By Nick Patterson Herald writer
Don’t look now, but here come the Prince George Cougars.
The much-maligned northern British Columbia franchise hasn’t had much to get excited about recently, but Prince George is on its best run in years and pulling itself back into the Western Conference playoff race.
“We’re winning lots now and it’s the belief in the room we can score five goals a night and if we’re down one or two it doesn’t seem to faze us anymore,” Cougars captain Troy Bourke told the Prince George Citizen. “We’re coming back in games and starting games better and it’s exciting. It shows guys are paying the price when you’re up 7-1 and guys like (Jansen) Harkins are laying out and blocking shots. For a captain, that’s pretty cool to see.”
Prince George has long been a Western Conference doormat. The Cougars haven’t had a winning season since 2006-07. Prince George made the playoffs just twice in the ensuing six seasons, and both times the Cougars were swept out of the first round.
It seemed this season Prince George was destined for a similar fate, as the Cougars fell well out of a playoff spot in ninth place in the conference. However, a recent eastern road trip sparked Prince George to a six-game winning streak. As a result, going into Monday’s action Prince George suddenly found itself just two points behind Tri-City for the conference’s eighth-and-final playoff spot.
The Cougars have been winning in style, too. It didn’t look like that would develop at the beginning of Prince George’s six-game swing through the East Division, as the Cougars opened the trip with an 8-0 loss at Regina and a 6-3 defeat at Brandon.
However, a 6-5 shootout victory at Prince Albert two nights later got the winning streak started. Subsequent wins included a 10-6 victory at Saskatoon, a 6-2 victory at East Division-leading Swift Current, and a 7-1 thrashing of Red Deer at home on Saturday.
“The veterans are doing their jobs and if you look at those three 16-year-olds (Harkins, Brad Morrison, Tate Olson), since they came back from the World Under-17s they’ve kind of taken off here and gone to another level,” Cougars general manager Dallas Thompson told the Citizen.
All six of Prince George’s wins during the streak came against Eastern Conference competition. The rest of the Cougars’ games are against Western Conference foes. So if the Cougars are to continue their winning ways, they’ll have to get results against the teams they’re chasing.
Around the WHL
Former Kamloops alternate governor Dennis Coates was the recipient of the WHL Distinguished Service Award for the 2013-14 season. Coates was part of the ownership group that brought the Blazers to Kamloops in 1981, and he remained involved with the team through 2008. … Lethbridge fired assistant coach Brad Lukowich, saying Lukowich was “terminated for cause.” Lukowich was added to the Hurricanes coaching staff last June. … Kootenay’s Sam Reinhart was named the WHL Player of the Week. The 18-year-old forward had three goals and eight assists as the Ice went 3-0. … Prince George’s Todd Fiddler was named the WHL Player of the Month for January. The 20-year-old forward had 16 goals and 13 assists in 14 games. … Tri-City’s Eric Comrie was named the WHL Goaltender of the Month for January. The 18-year-old was 8-2-0-1 with a 1.35 goals against average and .962 save percentage.
Points — Mitch Holmberg (Spokane) 93; goals — Holmberg 47; assists — Nicolas Petan (Portland) 63; penalty minutes — Ryan Rehill (Kamloops) 151; wins — Tristan Jarry (Edmonton) 35; goals against average — Coleman Vollrath (Victoria) 2.21; save percentage — Vollrath .932.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.