The two Prince George junior hockey teams have nearly completed their regular season schedules and are in the stretch drive.
The Cougars have 16 games left, nine of which are at home, while the other seven are on the road. It was determined weeks ago that the Cats will finish third in the B.C. Division. The record in their remaining games won’t affect their placement in the standings. One might suspect that this team will just play out the string and then “crank it up” against Kamloops or Vancouver in the playoffs.
However, can the team afford the luxury of “coasting” for the remainder of the season? The Cougars, (25-25-2-4) have earned as many wins as regulation losses. General consensus is they are playing .500 hockey and are improving. But are they? Home sweeps over WHL doormats (Portland Winterhawks and Chilliwack Bruins) should not create false optimism.
But what about their play against better teams? The Cats have failed to sweep a home double-header against a winning team. In fact, they don’t even have one victory in five tries against the Giants and have just two wins (both at home) in seven games against the Blazers. In their last 16 games, 13 are against teams with winning records and the other three are against Kelowna. For some unexplained reason, the Cougars have struggled with the baby face Rockets, going just 2-3. With the competition more difficult, and no more “gimmee” games remaining against the Bruins or the Winterhawks, Cougar supporters will soon get a better idea as to whether this team is capable of a first round upset.
On the other hand, the Vancouver-Kamloops first place battle has added importance because both teams would rather face Kelowna rather than an older underachieving P.G. team that will try to rebound from a disappointing regular season. Nevertheless, playoff hockey is still over a month away, but at least the teams have read their scripts and are now ready for the dress rehearsal.
Meanwhile, the Spruce Kings have seven games remaining (the next four at home versus Victoria, Nanaimo, Quesnel and Williams Lake and the last three on the road at Penticton twice and Vernon) before the BCHL playoffs begin March 6. The Spruce Kings are battling Trail and Salmon Arm for third, fourth and fifth.
There’s no question that the Spruce Kings improved their club at the trade deadline, but inconsistent play remains a concern. Although the Spruce Kings may win a round, or possibly two, in the playoffs, a long successful run remains doubtful. In other words, look for a lengthy break prior to the start of the Royal Bank Cup on May 5.
The Cougars and Spruce Kings season leaves hockey fans with the following question to ponder: Which of the two banner-less P.G. junior hockey franchises has a better chance to excel in the playoffs?
You have to admit, it’s hard to make a case for either one, isn’t it?
And how was your week?
Hartley Miller is the sports director for radio stations 94X and the Wolf@97fm. He also writes for Opinion250.