CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Undefeated Cougars on the prowl

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.

“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.

Written with files from Ted Clarke at the Prince George Citizen. Full story


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