Happy Easter! 

It is generally a good sign if your favorite WHL team is still playing at this time of the year.

That usually means they have won a playoff round or perhaps two.

As we are all aware, this past year has been anything but normal.

On this long weekend, most of the 22 teams (Kelowna Rockets on pause due to COVID-19 breakout on the team) are competing as part of their abbreviated 24-game season.

I have to admit that old habits do not just go away overnight.

For example, at the conclusion of WHL games, I look at the end of the game summary on the league’s website for the attendance numbers.

Obviously, that column will continuously show a blank, at least until the fall and the 2021-22 season.

The PG Cougars have completed 1/8 of their season.

Ordinarily, that would be a sample size of eight or nine games, a bit early to give a proper assessment but enough for a taste test.

This season though 1/8 translates to only three games.

The Cougars started with a 5-4 loss to Kamloops on Saturday, followed that with a 5-3 victory over Victoria Monday, and then fell 6-1 to Kamloops last night (Thursday).

Cougars coach and GM Mark Lamb, my guest in this week’s Cat Scan podcast, agrees development takes priority over results, although that is not to discount wins and losses.

He plans to be fair to goalies Taylor Gauthier (2001) and Tyler Brennan (2003), separated by two years but at different stages of their career.

This is Gauthier’s fourth season and Brennan’s second after both began in the league at age 16.

Lamb says if both are playing well, each can expect to start on a rotating basis.

(Brennan will be leaving the Cougars this month as he is one of three goalies named to represent Canada at the 2021 Under-18 World Hockey Championship. The tournament will run from April 26th to May 6th in Frisco and Plano, Texas)

The coach also has a bit of an overcrowded roster of 24 meaning a few of the younger players on the team will get rotated in and out of the lineup.

Special teams will not necessarily be the five most offensively gifted older players but rather a chance for many different combinations of all ages.

With an average age of about 17 ½, the Cougars have the second-youngest team in the WHL.

Inconsistency will be part of the team’s development and we have already seen signs of that in the first week.

Lamb admits the Cats should make significant strides in 21-22 but it likely won’t be until 22-23 that Prince George really turns a corner to become not only competitive but perhaps even elite.

It may seem ironic that P.G. had the second-fewest goals scored in the league during the 2019-20 season, yet in the Kamloops “bubble” otherwise known as a controlled environment, they notched 10 in its first three games.

They have also given up 14 although two of those games were against arguably the top team in the division.

The Cougars power play was 16th last season at 18.6 % yet this season they are fourth at 30.8 % (4 for 13).

Okay, of course, I am getting far to head of myself after just three games to report any kind of meaningful team statistics, but this just reminds us that it has been over a year since we even looked up team stats.

With results now trickling in, the reality of having the Cougars back has started to sink in.

The highs (having a number of rookies already scoring their first WHL goal) and lows (the collapse allowing four unanswered second-period goals Thursday vs. Kamloops) have already started.

COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, but it is welcome news just to be able to discuss and dissect Cougars games again.

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Forward Brett Connolly of Prince George has had an up and down season with the Florida Panthers to put it mildly.

The 28-year-old played in his 500th NHL game on January 28th.

A month later on February 28th, Connolly was placed on waivers with two years remaining on a four-year, $14 million deal ($3.5 AAV) he originally signed on July 1, 2019.

After going unclaimed, the former PG and Cariboo Cougar was given another chance by the Panthers, and just over a month after going on waivers, he scored his 100th career goal on Tuesday (March 30th) in a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

The 24-9-4 Panthers are among the best teams in the NHL and tied with Tampa Bay for battling for the top spot in their division and overall league.

Being in and out of the lineup can be challenging especially from a mental aspect.

Connolly can be proud of his milestones and achievements but he has the first-hand experience not to rest on his laurels if he wants to remains a contributor on a team on the rise.

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Always on top of the hockey picture and the COVID-19 counts, here is the latest from the dean of WHL writers, Gregg Drinnan.


FROM THE QUOTE RACK:

Rory McIlroy hooked a tee shot in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament, and it bounded into a swimming pool, which is certainly a fitting place to lose a stroke.

*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/

Thursday was opening day in Major League Baseball. Have the Baltimore Orioles been eliminated yet?

*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com

The San Francisco 49ers gave up three No. 1 picks to the Miami Dolphins to move up in the draft to likely choose a QB. So who did GM John Lynch consult to make this trade, anyway, Kevin Costner?

*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California

 

IN CASE, YOU MISSED IT

According to the LA Times, a motorcyclist dressed as the Easter Bunny was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. He was cited for lane-hopping, cottontailgating, and having all his eggs in one basket.

*Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com

Hartley Miller is the news and sports supervisor and morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97.
He also is the 94.3 the Goat radio colour commentator for P.G. Cougars home games.
His column appears Fridays on myprincegeorgenow.com.
Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to hmiller@thegoatrocks.ca