WHL notebook: Prince George changes direction behind bench

Silvertips will travel to play the Cougars in a doubleheader next week.

The Prince George Cougars will have a different look behind the bench when the Silvertips travel to northern British Columbia next week.

With the team in the midst of a lengthy losing streak, the Cougars announced last week the firing of head coach Richard Matvichuk. General manager Mark Lamb will take over as the Cougars’ bench boss on an interim basis.

The shakeup didn’t spark an immediate change in fortunes, as Prince George fell Friday at Kelowna, 4-3, and at Vancouver, 4-1, on Sunday, pushing the Cougars’ skid to 13 games. At 38 points, Prince George is 10 points behind Seattle for the final Western Conference wild card spot and 13 points behind Kelowna for the final playoff seat in the B.C. Division.

Prince George will host Victoria on Friday and Saturday before welcoming the Silvertips on Monday and Tuesday at the CN Centre.

Matvichuk, a 14-year NHL defenseman for the Stars, Wild and Devils, compiled a 85-89-12 record in two-plus seasons at the helm of Prince George. In his first season in 2016, the Cougars won the B.C. division for the first time in franchise history with a 45-21-3-3 record, but fell to Portland in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

U.S. Division: Spokane charging

The Chiefs, seemingly at full strength for the first time all year, are playing like the team many thought they would be at the start of the season.

After a 5-2 win over Kootenay on Sunday, the Chiefs have won five out of six — the only defeat being a 6-5 shootout loss to Portland — and have established a five-point lead over Tri-City for the third divisional playoff spot. Spokane is 14 points back of Everett and are eight points behind Portland, with three games in hand on the Winterhawks.

Spokane welcomed 19-year-old center Jaret Anderson-Dolan back to the lineup in early January after the Kings prospect returned from a wrist injury and the World Junior tournament, but have dealt with minor injuries to key forwards Riley Woods and Eli Zummack along the way.

Central Division: Red Deer slumping

The Rebels, riding a five-game losing streak, have been passed by Calgary in the standings and now are in the second wild-card position with just 60 points to the Hitmen’s 61 — although Red Deer still boasts two games in hand on Calgary. The race for the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference is significant because the second wild card will likely match up with the Prince Albert Raiders, who are dominating the WHL with a 45-7-0-2 record. Calgary has a 7-2-1 record in its last 10 games.

Red Deer embarks on its Western Conference road trip on Tuesday in Spokane before swinging by Angel of the Winds Arena for a date with the Silvertips on Wednesday.

East Division: Saskatoon streaking

The Blades, coached by former Silvertips captain and assistant coach Mitch Love, have claimed a point in each of their last 10 games. Overage defenseman Dawson Davidson boasts a 13-game point streak and overage center Maxwell Gerlach owns a 11-game point streak.

Even with the scorching stretch, Saskatoon is still 16 points back behind Prince Albert for the division lead, but have opened up an eight-point lead over Moose Jaw for home-ice advantage in a potential first-round matchup with the Warriors.

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