Saturday, October 1, 2016

Big crowd and Cougars respond

  • You can indeed teach a dog new tricks. Just ask Prince George Cougars head coach Richard Matvichuk. The most undisciplined team in the WHL last season has turned into choir boys and they are singing a sweet medley to the tune of a 5-0-0-0 start. Ok, that isn't necessarily true. The Cougars are playing hard and playing smart. It is what good teams do. Again, Friday night at CN Centre, the Cougars made only three trips to the penalty box and skated away with a 4-1 home ice win. Conversely, the Kelowna Rockets are taking a page out of the Cougars playbook from last season by taking endless trips to the penalty box. Last night they gave the Cougars three-five on three chances and surrendered three power play goals in the process. Impressively, the penalty killers did not give up a goal when they were down two men, but the ten chances the Cougars were granted would eventually prove to be lethal. While they are not the most penalized team in the WHL (Medicine Hat is), the Rockets have been shorthanded a league high 76 times. That may be a reason why they are 1-3-0-0.
  • The most significant sign that the Cougars have indeed changed their ways was in the dying seconds of the game when Rockets d-man Braydyn Chizen took a run at Cougars Josh Curtis. Last season, Prince George captain Sam Ruopp would have fought Chizen. This season, Ruopp may have had a word or two for the biggest player on the ice, but no punches were exchanged between the two.
  • While the total number of penalties the Rockets are taking is concerning, so is the lack of shots on net. In last night's 4-1 loss, the Rockets managed only 16 shots on Cougars goaltender Ty Edmonds. Let's give the Cougars defenders props for blocking shots and getting sticks on pucks, but the Rockets have to be more trigger happy. Making pin-point passing plays should be left for the power play and a shoot first mentality must be utmost on the minds of anyone wearing white, teal, red and black trim. The opening goal from Jake Kryski was a good example of a low percentage shot finding its way into the net. The three way passing plays can wait until Nick Merkley and Dillon Dube arrive on the scene and the skill level of no less than two lines will take a dramatic jump forward.
  • The good news? I thought Michael Herringer was terrific last night. The 20 year-old is the real deal. Herringer made several solid stops despite surrendering four goals. Herringer was not only significantly busier than Ty Edmonds at the other end but also much sharper. Herringer gave his team a chance to win, which is all you can ask for from your #1 goaltender.
  • The play of both Connor Bruggen-Cate and Kyle Topping are growing on me. Those first year players are making significant strides and are gaining confidence with the notion that they can indeed play at this level. Topping has the luxury of playing alongside Jake Kryski and Kole Lind. The 16 year-old (won't turn 17 until November) had another assist last night and now has points in three of the four games this season. Baby steps yes, but I see a high sealing for both of these players. 
  • Brad Morrison was named the first star last night with a two goal effort. Honestly, I thought the 19 year-old was even better Wednesday and he was held off the score-sheet. Will Morrison have a wicked year offensively? It is a given. 
  • The most pleasing sight before the puck was dropped was the number of fans in the stands at CN Centre. A crowd of 52 hundred took in the Cougars home opener and left delighted at the outcome. While not a sellout, the atmosphere in the building was excellent and was only aided by a new score clock/video screen and an upgrade to the sound system.  
  • The Rockets welcomed Lucas Johansen and Calvin Thurkauf to the line-up Friday. Johansen's return allowed the Rockets to use rookie d-man Konrad Belcourt as a forward. Johansen made smart plays and looked like the most composed defender on the ice. Thurkauf looked good early playing with Tomas Soustal, but was injured in the first period and never returned. 
  • These two teams will meet again tonight at CN Centre. The Cougars look to win three straight games over the Rockets in the seasonal series. When was the last time that happened? In the 1998-99 season, the Cougars would win the first 7 games of the seasonal series against the Rockets and finish with a 9 and 3 record in 12 head-to-head meetings.

No comments: