Prince George, B.C. – Next week the CN Centre will be buzzing as WHL Playoff hockey officially returns to Prince George!
This weekend the Prince George Cougars begin their quest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup when they battle the Seattle Thunderbirds in Games 1 and 2 in Kent, WA starting Friday (March 25th – 7:35 PM) and Saturday (March 26th – 7:05 PM) at the ShoWare Center. The series shifts back to Prince George for Games 3 and 4 which go Tuesday (March 29th – 7:00 PM) and Wednesday (March 30th – 7:00 PM) at CN Centre. If necessary Game 5 will take place back at the ShoWare Center in Kent, WA the following Friday (April 1st – 7:35 PM), Game 6 would then be played back in Prince George on the Sunday (April 3rd – 7:00 PM) and Game 7 would run on the following Tuesday (April 5th – 7:00 PM) down South.
Heading into the playoffs the Cougars have much to be encouraged by:
Mark Holick’s Cougars finished the 2015-16 regular season with an overall record of 36-31-3-2. Their 77 points gave them a 10 point improvement compared to a season ago, while their 36 victories were five better when compared to 2014-15 and the second highest single season victory total for the Prince George Cougars in 22 years. Points-wise the Cougars haven’t had a season this strong since 2001-02, where the Cougars went 34-27-9-2 and finished with 79 points.
Offensively the Cougars were highlighted by a pair of 40 goal scorers in Jesse Gabrielle and Chase Witala. The 18-year-old Gabrielle (a Boston Bruins draft pick from 2015) was acquired in a summer trade with Regina and became the youngest Cougar ever to record 40 goals on March 4th at home against Spokane. Chase Witala is a Prince George, B.C. product who played each of his 302 career games in a Cougars uniform. On February 3rd in Prince Albert he became the franchise’s all-time leading goal scorer, and on March 9th in Kelowna he surpassed Troy Bourke (236 career points) to become the Prince George Cougars all-time franchise leading scorer. He finished with 239 points.
On the back-end the Cougars got great contributions from a pair of 2015 NHL draftees: Sam Ruopp and Tate Olson. Ruopp, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect finished the season with four goals, 21 assists, 100 penalty minutes and was a team high +23, the highest plus-minus that any Cougar has recorded since Derek Halldorson’s +28 in 2001-02. Tate Olson, a Vancouver Canucks draft pick finished with nine goals, 47 points to lead all Cougar defenders in both categories.
Between the pipes, the tandem of Nick McBride and Ty Edmonds finished with a combined 33 wins and five shutouts. Both were ranked by NHL Central Scouting in the mid-term draft rankings and both finished with a save percentage above .900.
From a team stand-point the Cougars finished with the WHL’s third best penalty kill (82.1 percent) and were one of the 11 teams that finished with a positive goal differential (+15) this season.
Prince George Cougars vs. Seattle Thunderbirds First Round Schedule
Game 1 Prince George @ Seattle Friday, March 25, 7:35pm
Game 2 Prince George @ Seattle Saturday, March 26, 7:05pm
Game 3 Seattle @ Prince George Tuesday, March 29, 7pm
Game 4 Seattle @ Prince George Wednesday, March 30, 7pm
Game 5 Prince George @ Seattle Friday, April 1, 7:35pm*
Game 6 Seattle @ Prince George Sunday, April 3, 7pm*
Game 7 Prince George @ Seattle Tuesday, April 5, 7:05pm*
* if necessary