Cougars welcome Rebels tonight
Mark Holick saw a lot of the Western Hockey League’s Alberta teams while guiding the Kootenay Ice for three seasons from 2007 to 2010.
Behind the Prince George Cougars’ bench at CN Centre tonight, he’ll get to see one of the Ice’s Central Division rivals. The Red Deer Rebels are in town for a weeknight game, opening faceoff slated for 7 p.m.
Kootenay is the only B.C. club in a six-team division with four other Alberta squads: the Edmonton Oil Kings, Calgary Hitmen, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Cougars will see a lot of the Central Division over the next two weeks. They’ll also play the Rebels in Red Deer on Feb. 13, the start of a four games in six days swing through Alberta. Before hitting the road, the Cougars will battle their B.C. Division rival Vancouver Giants, Friday and Saturday (7 p.m. at CN Centre).
The Cougars sit ninth in the 10-team Western Conference with 16 wins, 30 losses, two overtime setbacks and five shootout defeats (16-30-2-5). The Rebels are fourth in the 12-team Eastern Conference with a 27-21-4-2 record.
Holick expects a challenge this evening.
“Any team coached by Brent (Sutter) is going to be hard work and in your face, pucks to the net, bodies, maybe a little bit of nastiness in their game,” Holick said on Saturday evening. “But we’re going to be ready for that as well. We got to try and get all of our guys on board. I’d like to use everybody if we can. But at the same time, everybody has got to be going to make sure we get our ice time.”
The Cougars are coming off a 2-1 shootout loss against the Victoria Royals on Saturday night. The game marked the second half of a CN Centre doubleheader. The Cats topped the visitors 6-2 on Friday evening.
In Saturday’s contest, Cougars defenceman Dallas Ehrhardt scored the tying goal with only 1:34 remaining in the third period. He skated at the puck just inside the blue line, wiring a slap shot past goalie Patrik Polivka.
“Basically I knew it was a tough play and I was just trying to put it on net and hope for something and luckily it went up and in for me,” Ehrhardt said outside the Cougars’ dressing room shortly after the contest.
On the Royals’ side, forward Alex Gogolev scored the regulation goal and shootout winner.
In the fourth round, Gogolev beat Cougars goalie Mac Engel with a shot that went blocker side off the post and in. The decisive marker came after forward Caleb Belter was stopped trying to slide the puck low on Polivka.
Gogolev’s tally was recorded at 5:41 of the second period.
Both goalies were steady in regulation, and that carried over in the shootout. They shut the door through the first three rounds. Zach Pochiro, Troy Bourke and Colin Jacobs were unable to score on Polivka. Engel kept the puck out of the net against Steven Hodges, Brandon Magee and Jamie Crooks. Magee hit the crossbar on a backhand attempt.
Three out of four points in a doubleheader is nothing the Cougars will hang their heads about. But they know how close they came to getting that fourth one.
“Baby steps with our group right now. We’re still learning, and it’s disappointing. A loss is a loss for us,” Holick said. “It’s encouraging that we battled back. We didn’t fold. It wasn’t the prettiest game. It wasn’t a Picasso by any means. But certainly we battled, we stayed the course, we threw a lot of pucks in traffic at the net. I think what you saw tonight is two tired hockey teams.”
Lineup – Holick was hopeful a couple of injured defenceman, Marc McNulty and Jordan Harris, would be back practicing this week. He noted that they may be ready to hit the ice against the Rebels.
Backup goalie – Affiliated player Ty Edmonds acted as Engel’s backup on Saturday and it’s expected he’ll do the same this week. Brett Zarowny was injured on Jan. 30 during the Cougars’ 5-2 road loss against the Tri-City Americans.
Attendance – Announced attendance for the Cougars’ games against Victoria was 1,518 on Friday and 1,647 on Saturday.
Schedule – The Cougars will have completed 75 per cent of their 72-game regular-season schedule after tonight. Their Alberta swing will include stops in Medicine Hat (Feb. 15), Lethbridge (Feb. 16) and Edmonton (Feb. 18). They begin another five-game homestand on Feb. 22, and will engage in a six-game Western Conference road trip in March.
The Cougars’ schedule concludes on March 16 at CN Centre against the Kamloops Blazers.