The Prince George Cougars did not overachieve nor did they underachieve.
In the 2022-23 season, they simply achieved.
Based on talent, roster, and expectations it was fitting the Cougars were the second-best team out of five in the B.C. Division and the fourth-best team out of 10 in the Western Conference.
They moved from a lower middle team the previous season to an upper middle team and the goal will even be higher come the fall for the 23-24 season.
The Cougars can call the current year a success because they won a playoff round for the first time in 16 years, needing six games to knock out the team just below them in the standings, the 5th-seeded Tri-City Americans.
Let’s not hide from the fact though that there was disappointment at the end – not that they lost to a much more skilled team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, but the way they were badly beaten.
Realistically, an outsider looking in, would not have given Prince George much of a chance against a team that finished 30 points higher than them in the standings.
On top of that the Thunderbirds, on paper, have one of the best WHL rosters ever with 10 drafted NHL players on the team and another six that are in the final Central Scouting rankings for the 2023 NHL Draft.
Seattle had its full team against P.G., with no notable injuries, the first time the Thunderbirds had their peak lineup all season.
Prior to the series, I thought Prince George was more than capable of winning a game, but in the end, was not surprised at the sweep.
I was stunned though that over the four games, the Thunderbirds outscored the Cougars by a whopping 25-5 margin.
Perhaps I was misled in the first round that Seattle only outscored the 8th-seeded Kelowna Rockets 14-4 over the four games.
The Cougars were a considerably better team than the Rockets in the regular season standings, (81 points compared to 58 over the course of 68 games) yet Seattle had a plus 10 goal differential margin against Kelowna and double that to plus 20 against Prince George.
One had to be impressed with the Thunderbirds’ domination in all facets of the game at CN Centre with those 8-1 and 8-2 victories to put the series away.
Despite the results against Seattle, Prince George hockey fans appreciated the improvement, effort and overall entertainment value that the Cougars provided.
On Wednesday, as the Cats played for the final time in 22-23, nearly half of the 4,024 fans in attendance at CN Centre waited until the very end, in an 8-2 blowout game, to salute their hometown team with a standing ovation long after the two teams shook hands following the game.
Cougars season comes to a close after being swept by Seattle https://t.co/ootmstJXE9 pic.twitter.com/G5iRpMHcPg
— My Prince George Now (@mypgnow) April 20, 2023
It was fitting that Team MVP Chase Wheatcroft delivered the final goal in his final WHL game to conclude his one dream season in Prince George.
The goal, which came in the final minute, did not mean anything in terms of the outcome of the game, but it meant a ton to an emotional Wheatcroft who capped off his junior career in style.
“I felt pretty good to get that last one, but I knew that was kind of the end of it once it went in, so a lot of emotions came out after that goal, but I couldn’t be more proud of this group. It didn’t mean a lot, but it meant a lot to me personally to end off like that,” said Wheatcroft on the 94.3 The Goat post-game show.
Ladies and gentlemen: Chase Wheatcroft, one final time. https://t.co/S5EamG30I9 pic.twitter.com/JpFiXEHWdX
— x – Prince George Cougars (@PGCougars) April 20, 2023
The Cougars will not have Wheatcroft and their two other 20-year-olds, Jaxsen Wiebe and Cole Dubinsky back for next year.
They may also lose their 19-year-old Captain Ethan Samson to the Philadelphia Flyers farm team but the vast majority of their players are eligible to return.
The Thunderbirds and Kamloops Blazers, (the powerhouses in the Western Conference, with each team at 8-0 in the playoffs) are both built to have the most success this year.
Both of those teams will be losing several key players.
In other words, on paper, the Cougars have a realistic chance of taking another major step forward, next season.
The team averaged just over 4,600 fans in their five home playoff dates, an improvement of nearly 1,900 a game compared to the regular season.
With excitement, anticipation, passion and ambition, the P.G. Cougars appear headed in the right direction.
Yes, the fun has returned to CN Centre with much more expected in the near future.
Cat Scan podcast:
Two @PGCougars cat scan #podcasts. Separate interviews with former Cougars Devin #Setoguchi & Greg Gardner, recalling the 2007 playoff run plus many other interesting stories on their careers since they left PG. Devin recalls life in #NHL & Greg discusses his job with the @whl. https://t.co/kC9cuHiOFL
— Hartley Miller (@Hartley_Miller) April 19, 2023
Ginnell family had memorable run in the WHL . . . Blazers take apart Winterhawks; move into conference final . . . Stankoven new scoring leader https://t.co/PMWPOhvxZG
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) April 21, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer, 38, was ejected and suspended for 10 games for an allegedly illegal substance on his glove. Could he claim it was Poligrip?
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
When informed that he was suspended one game over a Game 2 incident with Damatas Sabonis of the Sacramento Kings, Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors said, ‘You’ve got to be pulling my leg.’
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
The L.A. Times reports a worker at a California recycling plant grabbed a kitten from a moving conveyor belt, saving it from certain death. That’s today’s top mews story.
*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie (Sports Deke)
Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He completed 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).