The Prince George Cougars have little playoff experience of late, but their first-round opponent even has less.
The Tri-City Americans are returning to the WHL post-season for the first time in four years.
The Cougars participated in last year’s playoffs but it only lasted four games as they were swept in the opening round by the Portland Winterhawks.
Prior to that, Prince George had not been to the playoff dance since 2017.
Besides the lack of winning playoff games, these two teams have a few other similarities.
The (37-24-6-1) Cougars and (34-26-5-3) Americans are both on a roll, neither team has lost in regulation time in at least three weeks.
Prince George is riding an 11-game point streak (8-0-2-1) and Tri-City is coming in on a 7-game point streak (6-0-0-1).
The Cougars have not lost in regulation since March 1st while the Americans have not lost in 60 minutes since March 10th.
Both have a power play in the top six of the 22-team league and both have a penalty kill in the bottom six.
PG’s PP is #2 at 27.7 % but only a fraction ahead of Tri-City which is #5 at 27.3 %.
The Americans PK is 17th at 74.5 %, a notch above the Cats, sitting 18th at 74 %.
Tri-City has an excellent starting goalie in 19-year-old Tomas Suchanek (Height: 6’2) who has a .912 save percentage (SP) and 3.05 goals-against-average (GAA) in 46 games.
If you watched any of Czechia’s games at the 2023 world junior championship you would have been impressed with Suchanek, including the gold medal game, where he lost 3-2 in overtime to Canada despite making 35 saves on 38 shots.
Prince George also has a superb 19-year-old starting goalie in Tyler Brennan (Height: 6’3)
who was a lot stronger in the second half of the 2022-23 season and ended up with a 2.86 GAA and .898 save percentage in 37 games.
The Cougars did not win a game in the 2022 playoffs against Portland but that wasn’t Brennan’s fault as he posted a whopping .954 SP and a 1.86 GAA in four games.
Both teams had similar records with just five points separating the two in the standings (PG with 81 and Tri-City with 76).
Another similarity is goals against as the Cougars allowed 241 in 68 games, just four less than the Americans (245).
One advantage that Prince George has on paper is firepower.
The Cougars have three forwards (Team MVP Chase Wheatcroft, Riley Heidt, and Koehn Zimmer) in the top 10 of WHL scoring while the Americans do not have a player in the top 30 or a forward in the top 50.
Winger Parker Bell is 55th with 64 points (25 goals) in 55 games and his teammate, winger Ethan Ernst, is right behind in 58th with 63 points (32 goals) in 62 games.
The top scorer on Tri-City is highly regarded 17-year-old defenceman Lukas Dragicevic (15 goals and 75 points in 68 games).
According to NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings, Dragicevic is ranked 12th among North American skaters.
(In those same rankings Ziemmer is 20th and his linemate Heidt is 26th).
The Cougars do have two high-scoring defencemen who are two years older than Dragicevic in 19-year-old Hudson Thornton (74 points in 68 games) and Captain Ethan Samson (60 points in 60 games).
Thornton broke the PG Cougars record for most points and most goals by a defenceman in a single season.
The Cougars had the 4th most goals in the 22-team league with 290, which is 34 more than Tri-City (256).
The Americans won the season series (3-1) but one should not put any stock into those games.
They split the first two games of the season on Sept 23rd and 24th in P.G. where the Cougars were missing Samson and goalies Brennan and Ty Young (at NHL camps) leaving 16-year rookie Madden Mulawka to tend net.
The Americans won both games against the Cats nearly four months ago on Dec 9th and 10th, (4-3 in OT and 4-3) in Kennewick.
In those games, the Cougars were struggling with the flu bug that went through the team and was again without Brennan and 20-year-olds Jaxsen Wiebe and Cole Dubinsky.
Prince George fans are excited for the Cougars to win a playoff round for the first time in 16 years while Tri-City supporters believe the Americans can advance to the second round for the first time in five years.
With this being a 4-vs-5 match-up and the only series that will use a 2-3-2 format, the Cougars and Americans provide arguably the most intriguing WHL first-round series.
2023 WHL PLAYOFFS – SERIES H SCHEDULE
|1||March 31, 2023||Tri-City||Prince George||7:00 p.m. PT|
|2||April 1, 2023||Tri-City||Prince George||6:00 p.m. PT|
|3||April 4, 2023||Prince George||Tri-City||7:05 p.m. PT|
|4||April 5, 2023||Prince George||Tri-City||7:05 p.m. PT|
|5||April 7, 2023||Prince George||Tri-City||7:05 p.m. PT||*|
|6||April 9, 2023||Tri-City||Prince George||6:00 p.m. PT||*|
|7||April 11, 2023||Tri-City||Prince George||7:00 p.m. PT||*|
* – if necessary
Cat Scan podcast:
An in-depth look at the @PGCougars @TCAmericans 1st-round #WHL matchup in this week’s Cat Scan #podcast. Cougars coach & GM Mark Lamb discusses peaking at the right time, similarities between Swift Current & PG rebuild, PG offensive prowess, goalie matchup, 2-3-2 format & more. https://t.co/9wLYevuiOG
— Hartley Miller (@Hartley_Miller) March 28, 2023
Suspensions over, four Warriors ready to go . . . OHL teams shooting darts on social media . . . Pitch clock a home run for MLB https://t.co/YLDSXFWmyt
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) March 31, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
The Major League Baseball season opened yesterday (Thursday). Have the Oakland A’s been eliminated yet?
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
More than 2,000 mummified Rams heads, believed to be over 2,000 years old, were found near an ancient Egyptian temple. Archeologists believe that this was a result of fan reaction over a franchise shift from Alexandria to Cairo.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
A man was once arrested for swimming nude in a fountain outside the Library of Congress. On the bright side, the police had no trouble finding a book to throw at him.
*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 is in his 10th season as the radio colour commentator for Prince George Cougars’ home games. Hartley has been on the airwaves in PG since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).