It’s early, but the top ranked Prince George Cougars are getting people’s attention.
The Cougars are off to a 6-0 start, outscoring opponents 24-10 under new head coach Richard Matvichuk, a stretch that has included three wins over the ever-competitive Kelowna Rockets and back-to-back victories over the reigning B.C. Division champion Victoria Royals.
The big trio of Jared Bethune, Colby McAuley and New York Rangers prospect Brad Morrison sits 1, 2, 3 in WHL scoring, powering Prince George to their best start in 23 years.
RECAP: The Cougars make it six straight wins to start the season after a 3-0 shutout over Kelowna Saturday.
— PG Cougars (@PGCougars) October 2, 2016
“The biggest thing with our team this year is we don’t care who’s scoring,” Bethune, who has 10 points (5-5–10) over six games told the Prince George Citizen’s Ted Clarke. “We’re just playing for each other and trying to win every game and it’s showing.”
While six games is a small sample size to draw big conclusions from, the Cougars do boast a considerable amount of size, strength and experience throughout their lineup. Strapping Boston Bruins prospect Jesse Gabrielle and 6-foot-2, 195-pound Winnipeg Jets second rounder Jansen Harkins lead the way up front while 6-foot-3, 220-pound Colorado Avalanche pick Josh Anderson and veteran NHL prospects in Sam Ruopp (Columbus) and Tate Olson (Vancouver) anchor the blue line.
The Cougars have a few big names, but widespread contributions have been the key to their success so far, with 2014 fifth overall WHL Bantam Draft selection Justin Almeida recording seven points (2-5–7) in six games, offseason acquisition Yan Khomenko registering five points (2-3–5) and 18 year-old Kody McDonald putting up six points (2-4–6).
“Six in a row is a big deal – it was our biggest streak last year so we’re just hoping to beat it this year,” said 19-year-old forward Aaron Boyd, who scored his first of the season on Saturday. “I think we all came in with a different mindset this year, with a new coach and having all these new systems to follow. It’s just a lot more fun this year.”
Winning is fun, and Matvichuk, who played for the Saskatoon Blades in his WHL playing days before a 13-year NHL career that included a Stanley Cup title with the Dallas Stars in 1999, seems to have rekindled an excitement in Prince George.
“Every game has been a complete team effort which is very gratifying for me,” he said. “You look at the way guys are sacrificing their bodies for each other and the friendships – they’ve already bonded this early in the year, it’s awesome.”
While they’ve had no problem finding the back of the net, the veteran goaltending tandem of overager Ty Edmonds and 19-year-old Nick McBride has been solid, allowing just 10 goals over six games. They look to keep the Cougars rolling in the midst of a current six game home stand that includes back-to-back dates with Vancouver and Everett over the next two weekends.
The Cougars haven’t won a playoff series since 2007, but with a new face behind the bench and a renewed enthusiasm in BC’s ‘northern capital’, the cats are on the prowl, looking like they’ll be a competitive force in the Western Conference.
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) October 5, 2016
Written with files from Ted Clarke at the Prince George Citizen. Full story
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