The Prince George Cougars have no more road games until the new year, while most members of the organization will only be leaving town for a 10-day Christmas break.
The schedule may be the most certain aspect of the Cougars this month, along with uniform colours and team name. Roster moves and injuries are as commonplace as road trips and practices in junior hockey. What remains a question mark is what the Cougars will look like after January’s Western Hockey League trade deadline.
Certain players may be on the trading block, or rumoured to be dealt as the team struggles to work its way out of the basement.
For now, Cougars head coach Drew Schoneck is a little relieved over the certainty that lies ahead – a four-game stretch of home games before Santa Claus comes to town.
“Certainly it would’ve been nicer to come through that [road] schedule a little bit better on the wins and losses side of things, but that being said it’s over,” he said.
The past is the past and in retrospect, the last month wasn’t pretty for the Prince George Cougars. They had to endure a 16 games in 34 days stretch with lots of travel, including a a four games in five nights trip in which they played two of the Canadian Hockey League’s top teams, the Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans, twice each. Most recently, the Cats headed east to Red Deer for a Saturday night game versus the Rebels, went south the following day for an afternoon affair with the Calgary Hitmen before travelling back over the Rockies to B.C. for a Tuesday road game in the Fraser Valley versus the Chilliwack Bruins.
The Cougars finished the stretch at 4-12, in which they were at home just four times.
“I think [each player is] kind of looking forward to finally getting some home games in and being able to sleep in [his] own bed for a change,” Schoneck said.
For Schoneck, he’ll be able to utilize the extra time in Prince George with more practices. He said mental mistakes dug the Cougars into a 3-0 hole early in their 6-3 loss Tuesday in Chilliwack, but was impressed with his team’s ability to rebound and get within a goal, down 4-3 late in the third period.
Tomorrow night, the Cougars welcome the Prince Albert Raiders to CN Centre for the first date of a six-game homestand. As of Tuesday, the Raiders were fifth in the six-team East Division standings with a record of 10-17-3-1.
“They got some good young players,” said Schoneck of Prince Albert. “Again, they’re a team that plays well within their systems so we have to make sure that we’re ready to go.”
Usually the Achilles heel of the Cougars, Schoneck was impressed with his team’s penalty kill on Tuesday, as they were able to surrender no goals on three man advantage opportunities for Chilliwack.
Evan Pighin led all scorers Tuesday with two goals and two assists for the Bruins. Oscar Moller picked up four assists. Also scoring for Chilliwack were Cody Smuk, Nick Holden and former Cougar Chris Van Duynhoven.
Defenceman Ty Wishart, and forwards Morgan MacLean and Parker Stanfield replied for the Cats.
Tommy Tartaglione started Tuesday’s game for the Cougars, but was replaced by Real Cyr to begin the second period. Tartaglione stopped 12 of 15 shots, while Cyr turned aside 21 of 23 pucks fired his way.
Forward Dana Tyrell, who twisted his knee Sunday in Calgary, could be back in action on Saturday.
After that game, Tyrell and Wishart will be out of the Cougars lineup at least week since they’re heading to Canada’s National Junior Selection Camp from Dec. 10-14 at the Father David Bauer Olympic Arena in Calgary.
The Cougars, who returned from their road trip at about 8 a.m.. Wednesday morning, are also bringing up three 1992-born players for action over the next couple weeks. Brett Connolly, Bruin McDonald and Nick Buonassisi will get an opportunity to practice and see game action with the Cougars.
On the injury front, defenceman Jesse Dudas is probable for tomorrow’s game, while forward Dale Hunt is still recovering from a broken hand.