Prince George Cougars goalie Devon Fordyce reaches back with his right leg to make a save against the Kelowna Rockets during Saturday night’s Western Hockey League game at CN Centre. Fordyce recorded 45 saves for the home team in a 4-1 defeat.
Shorthanded Cougars lose twice
By Alistair McInnis - Prince George Free Press
Published: February 08, 2012 11:00 AM
Updated: February 08, 2012 11:22 AM
They’re wounded, lack bite in their attack and are carrying another losing streak.
The Prince George Cougars entered February hoping the new month would present more positive results than a January in which they were 3-9 in 12 Western Hockey League games.
With losses in their last three games, it hasn’t been a positive start to February for the Cats.
The Cougars’ last win was a 4-2 road triumph over the Victoria Royals on Jan. 31, the team’s 500th win since relocating to Prince George from the provincial capital in 1994. Reaching No. 501 is proving to be a challenge.
A team that’s been no stranger to slumps this season, there’s something different about this skid. Injuries have played a larger role this time, with several regulars out of the lineup on the weekend against the Kelowna Rockets.
Fatigue may have also been setting in, as Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to the Rockets at CN Centre was their fourth game in five nights. The Rockets outshot the home team 49-15, including 17-2 in the third period.
The list of injured Cougars who sat out on the weekend included starting goalie Drew Owsley, recovering from an upper body injury suffered during the pre-game skate to Friday night’s 2-1 Kelowna win. As a result, back-up Devon Fordyce played in back-to-back games for the first time all season.
“(Fordyce) hasn’t had a lot of games this year, but certainly I thought for the most part he played very solid for us this weekend,” Cougars head coach Dean Clark said. “We’re a team that from about the halfway mark of the game really ran out of gas.”
Fordyce, a WHL rookie who turned 18 on Jan. 28, knows that a back-up goalie has to be prepared to fill in when the starter goes down.
“I think it’s a bit of a confidence builder,” the 1994-born product of Cochrane, Alta. said after the game. “Getting to play a little bit more here is good, and playing fairly well too, I think, that was a good thing to have happen, kind of being forced to play well too, I guess, with Owsley being injured and not able to play.”
Fordyce was also busy Friday, with 29 shots against. On Saturday he turned aside all of the third-period shots he saw.
“You don’t really notice it when it’s happening,” he said. “It just feels like a normal shot, but I guess you feel a little bit more tired and stuff than normal. But I didn’t really notice it was that many shots until I looked at the clock at the end of the game there.”
As the Cougars dealt with a growing list of injuries, they continued struggling for offence. They’ve scored one goal in each game during their skid, which began with a 5-1 loss at Victoria on Feb. 1.
Now only 3-12 since the new year began, the Cougars’ 2011-12 record sits at 16 wins, 34 losses, zero overtime setbacks and two shootout defeats (16-34-0-2) for 34 points in 52 games. They’re ninth in the 10-team conference, one point ahead of the last-place Everett Silvertips (12-31-1-8).
The weekend victories helped Kelowna (24-23-2-4) strengthen its position on sixth place. The Royals and Seattle Thunderbirds, with 40 and 38 points respectively on Monday, were seventh and eighth as the battle for the final two playoff berths has turned into a four-horse race, with the Cougars and Silvertips currently out of the picture.
It won’t get any easier for the Cougars this weekend, as they play host to the Eastern Conference-leading Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday and Saturday (7 p.m. at CN Centre). The Oil Kings carried a record of 34-12-2-4 into their Tuesday night home game against the Kootenay Ice.
Clark hopes some of his injured players will be ready to return by the weekend, but couldn’t get into anything specific when asked about the health situation shortly after Saturday’s game.
“Right now, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know who’s close or who’s not. I know there are a few who still won’t be available. But where we are with the whole, there are so many I couldn’t even tell you. I think we got about 10 or 11 (injured) guys right now.”
The lineup scratches on the weekend included defencemen Dan Gibb, Reid Jackson and Shane Pilling, and forwards Brock Hirsche, John Odgers, Caleb Belter, Alex Forsberg and Jarrett Fontaine. Hirsche, whose shoulder injury may be season-ending, has filled in as an assistant coach in the meantime.
Linden Springer’s name could be added to the list on Saturday, as he left the ice with an injury.
Two affiliated defencemen, Raymond Grewal of the BC Hockey Major Midget League’s Cariboo Cougars and Medicine Hat product Marc McNulty, suited up for the Cats on Saturday. Clark has been pleased with the efforts of the Cougars’ call-ups.
“I think they’ve all played very, very well. There’s not a lot of pressure on them to do anything so I think they’ve come in and done what we’ve asked them to do,” he said. “It’s been, I think, a very positive thing for our guys to develop. They’re getting lots of exposure and lots of time in some tough situations so I’m happy with the progress of those kids.”
Scorers – Forward Daulton Siwak scored the Cougars’ lone goal on Saturday against the Rockets. Forward Spencer Asuchak scored the home team’s only goal in Friday’s game.
No Bulmer – Prince George product Brett Bulmer didn’t suit up for the Rockets on the weekend. The forward, who played nine games with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild in the fall, missed both games with the flu.
Attendance – Announced attendance was 1,525 on Friday and 1,857 on Saturday.
Schedule – After meeting the Oil Kings, the Cougars wrap up a five-game homestand on Feb. 15 against another Central Division team, the Red Deer Rebels. The game against the Rebels kickstarts another busy stretch which has the Cats playing five games in seven days.