ShoWare Center / 7:35 pm
ROAD TRIP: Tonight, is the first of a three-game road trip for the Cougars, which sees them stop in Portland Sunday and Kamloops next Wednesday, before returning home October 6-7 against Kelowna.
The Cougars should feel right at home on the road, as they sported the best road record in the Western Conference last season, going 23-11-2-0 in 36 games. Their .667 road winning percentage was third-best in the entire WHL, only behind Regina and Medicine Hat. PG won both of their games at the ShoWare Center last year, both by 3-2 scores. The Cougars picked up a 3-2 shootout win back on October 14, of last year and again, in regulation, right before the Christmas break on December 16.
COUGARS-THUNDERBIRDS: The Cougars won three of four against the T-Birds last season, with their only loss at home back in December. In those four games the Cougars outscored Seattle 14-11, with Brad Morrison leading the way with four goals and six points. Jansen Harkins was close behind with a goal and five points and Jesse Gabrielle had a pair of goals and three points. Nolan Volcan led all T-Birds in scoring against PG with a goal and five points. He had a four-point night against the Cougars in a losing effort on December 10, at the CN Centre.
TRADE WINDS: The Cougars addressed their over-age situation this week by trading defenceman Tate Olson to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, in exchange for a third-round selection in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. Olson played in 252 career regular season games spanning four seasons with the Cougars, compiling 23 goals and 107 points, to go along with 236 penalty-minutes. The Saskatchewan product was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the seventh round, 210th overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft. Olson was originally selected by the Cougars in the second round, 24thoverall, in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. With Olson moving on, the Cougars are now left with four 20-year-olds on their roster.
ROSTER BREAKDOWN: Currently the Prince George Cougars roster sits at 27 players: 15 forwards, 9 defencemen and three goaltenders. Among those 29 players, four are in their 20-year-old season, seven are in their 19-year-old season, six are in their 18-year-old season, nine are in their 17-year-old season and one is in their 16-year-old season. 15 of the 27 players on the roster were drafted by the Cougars in the WHL Bantam Draft, five players were acquired via trade, and eight were players added via the Cougars 50-man Protected List as free-agents.
BONDRA TURNS PRO: Monday the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rockford IceHogs, the NHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, announced the signing of 20-year-old Radovan Bondra. Bondra was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2015, in the fifth round, 151st overall. In 62 games, last year split between the Cougars and the Vancouver Giants, Bondra amassed 32 goals and 63 points in 62 games. In his three seasons in the WHL, the Slovak compiled 47 goals and 93 points in 120 career regular season games; He had another 10 points in 12 career playoff games. With Bondra’s signing, the Cougars are now down to their two import spots with Nikita Popugaev and Vladislav Mikhalchuk.
WHL NEXT GENERATION- TAYLOR GAUTHIER: Cougars’ netminder Taylor Gauthier (01) is one of the 22-players featured in the WHL’s Next Generation feature series on their website. The league profiled what they described as “22 potential future starts of the league” during the pre-season and Gauthier certainly has attracted attention. The Cougars’ First Round choice, 10thoverall, in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft has had a very productive pre-season. In three appearances the Calgary, Alberta, native has fashioned together a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Prince George certainly has high hopes for Gauthier, who was the first goalie taken inside the 10 of the WHL Bantam Draft, since Carey Price went seventh overall to Tri-Cities in 2002. Last season, as a 15-year-old, Gauthier led his CBHA Midget AAA Buffalos to an Alberta Midget Hockey League regular season title. In 17 appearances with the Buffalos last season, Gauthier put up a 2.06 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. This past summer Gauthier was invited to the Hockey Canada’s U-17 Summer Development Camp.
NEW FACES, IN NEW PLACES: The Cougars will have 12 rookies on their current roster. Of those dozen, there’s some familiar names who have suited up for games with the Cougars in the past. On the blue-line, Jonas Harkins and Cole Moberg both played in regular season games last season. Moberg scored his first WHL goal on the road against the Vancouver Giants back on November 10th, of last year. Max Kryski also suited up for two regular season games a season ago for PG. Ethan O’Rourke and Tavin Grant are a pair of Cougars who are looking to gain full-time status after starting last season with the team. Both finished the season across town with the Spruce Kings in the BCHL, but both are looking to build off an impressive pre-season. 18-year-old O’Rourke led the Cougars with four goals and five points in the four-pre-season games. Grant yielded just two goals in three appearances, posting a 1.21 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage. It’s a three-way battle in the Cougars’ crease and Grant is looking to solidify the number one job, by caring over his strong pre-season into the games that count.
ALUMNI WATCH: The Cougars had a handful of players, past and present, at NHL Training Camps this month. Jesse Gabrielle had a goal in two games with the Boston Bruins before being re-assigned to the Providence Bruins of the AHL earlier this week. Jansen Harkins played at the YoungStars Tournament in Penticton for the Winnipeg Jets and now is in camp with their farm team, the Manitoba Moose. Brendan Guhle is in camp with the Rochester Americans, the farm club of the Buffalo Sabres. Colby McAuley is in camp with the San Jose Barracuda in the AHL, and former Captain Sam Ruopp recently committed to the University of Saskatchewan after a tryout with Calgary Flames. Nikita Popugaev attend New Jersey Devils camp, Josh Anderson was with the Colorado Avalanche and Cholowski with the Red Wings. Kody McDonald was a free agent invitee on the Winnipeg Jets YoungStars Tournament roster.
-Prince George Cougars