Do you remember?
In the 1996-97 WHL regular season the Portland Winterhawks finished 36 points ahead of the Prince George Cougars.
The two teams met in the first round of the playoffs.
Naturally, the Winterhawks were heavy favorites, yet the Cougars won in six games outscoring Portland 19-14.
In the 2016-17 regular season the Cougars won the B.C. Division and were 12 points better than a much younger Winterhawks team.
This time, Portland pulled off the upset, winning in six games.
In the recently completed 2021-22 regular season, the Winterhawks ended up a whopping 46 points ahead of Prince George.
On paper, Portland should sweep Prince George or at the most win in five games in the best-of-7 first-round series.
The Winterhawks went a perfect 4-0 in the season series, outscoring the Cougars by a total of 22-8.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Jaydon Dureau led all skaters in scoring in those four games, collecting 11 points (2G-9A).
On the Cougars’ side, it was rookie Riley Heidt with five points (3G-2A) to lead his team.
The game though is not played on paper and you have heard this cliché many times but in the post-season, anything can happen.
This is not to suggest the Cougars will pull off the upset or even extend the series to a 7th and deciding game but the pressure is on Portland.
The Cats’ pressure was to make the playoffs and they did, thanks to a pair of victories in their last three games.
As we count down to the start of the 2022 #WHLPlayoffs, we’re previewing each first-round series.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 20, 2022
While Portland finished with 99 points, (record of 47-16-3-2) just one behind Western Conference champion Everett Silvertips, Prince George had just 53 points (record of 24-39-4-1).
The Cougars were awarded sixth after a goals-for-against tiebreaker against the Spokane Chiefs and Vancouver Giants.
The Victoria Royals missed the playoffs with 52 points, that is how close P.G. was to missing the post-season party again.
The Winterhawks scored 121 more goals than the Cougars (298-177) and they gave up 48 fewer (192-240).
The Cougars, the youngest team in the WHL, are built to win in the future while the Winterhawks are built to win now.
That is why Portland obtained starting goalie Taylor Gauthier from P.G. late in December for a package that included 20-year-old import defenceman Jonas Brøndberg, a 2023 third-round pick, and two conditional fifth-round picks.
Gauthier has lived up to expectations if not exceeded them in a Winterhawks uniform with a 24-4 record.
In fact, he led the league with a .928 save percentage and was 4th in goals-against-average with a 2.34 mark.
Gauthier, who turned 21 in February, played his former team twice, winning both with a 1.50 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
His sidekick to start the season, the 18-year-old Tyler Brennan was the goalie of record for P.G. in all four losses to Portland during the season.
Although Brennan has to be classified now as the Cougars starting goalie, he hasn’t played in the team’s last six games.
Part of the reason is he was sidelined with an upper-body injury and when he returned Ty Young was too hot to take out of the net.
Both Brennan and Young finished the season with a save percentage of .899.
Goaltending is the big equalizer in hockey, particularly in the playoffs.
The Cougars do not pull off the massive upset 25 years ago against the Winterhawks without sensational netminding from Chris Mason.
Whether it is Brennan or Young in the net, if either can match or beat what Gauthier does at the other end, then P.G. has a chance to not only make it a competitive series but to win.
It is a tall order as Gauthier has never played better and is highly motivated.
He has waited five years to show what he can do at the most important time of the season.
Even though this is a U.S. team against one from B.C. with a large point spread, the intrigue is in front of us as storylines are sitting right there.
Playoff time is back for the P.G. Cougars.
A long five-year wait finally comes to an end.
Now to enjoy the ride, however, long or short that may be.
PG Cougars Playoff Schedule vs. Portland
Friday, April 22nd at Portland (Game 1)- 7:00 pm
Saturday, April 23rd at Portland (Game 2)- 6:00 pm
Tuesday, April 26th vs. Portland (Game 3)- 7:00 pm
Wednesday, April 27th vs. Portland (Game 4)- 7:00 pm
Saturday, April 30th at Portland (Game 5)- 5:00 pm*
Monday, May 2nd vs. Portland (Game 6)- 7:00 pm*
Wednesday, May 4th at Portland (Game 7) 7:00 pm*
* If Necessary
The regular-season schedule and results for the PG Cougars are right here.
Cat Scan Podcast:
CAT SCAN: @Hartley_Miller chats with @PGCougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb on this week’s episode
| https://t.co/xPHvw5qatB #cityofpg #PrinceGeorge #northernbc #sports #northernuprising pic.twitter.com/wMokbpbMLv
— My Prince George Now (@mypgnow) April 20, 2022
Timing not right for one WHL award . . . Oil Kings draw first blood as playoffs begin . . . Wheat Kings borrow Broncos’ radio voice https://t.co/woLFF9hsSO
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) April 22, 2022
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
LSU outfielder Gavin Dugas has been hit by a pitch 13 times in his first 103 plate appearances this season. Minnesota Twins scouts love him, saying he’d be a perfect fit for Target Field.
*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/
Tom Brady said after he retired Feb 1, he spent time with his wife and kids and reflected on his decision to leave football behind. He said he still had a “love of the game” and started to get the feeling that he should still be playing. Possible translation – didn’t take long for Giselle to be tired of having him around the house.
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
All eyes in Georgia and Alabama were on their university’s spring football games on Saturday. The US Air Force cites this as the reason for the day’s significant decrease in reported UFO sightings.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
Saw the season’s first USFL game and it was a pleasant surprise. USFL did not like I thought it might stand for Untalented Scrubs Failing Laughably.
*Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg
In Case You Missed It:
The top three reasons people risked life and limb in Gloucestershire’s annual cheese-rolling race:
3. They thought cheddar of it;
2. It turned into a Brie-for-all;
1. To do the best they curd.
*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com
Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He also is the radio color commentator for P.G. Cougars’ home games. Hartley has been on the Prince George airwaves since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).