The Prince George Cougars’ season has come to an end, but it will be remembered fondly by fans as a huge step in the right direction.
Their series against the Tri-City Americans, capped off with a series-winning overtime goal, will be a highlight of the season fans look back on.
The final moments of the first round, brought to you by Chase Wheatcroft 🤯 pic.twitter.com/f2n6XQGSCo
— x – Prince George Cougars (@PGCougars) April 10, 2023
This broke a 16-year skid that saw the Cougars either eliminated in the first round or miss playoffs altogether.
The team finished second in BC with a 37-24-6-1 record, only behind the memorial cup-hosting Kamloops Blazers, and fourth in the Western Conference.
“On the hockey side, I thought we accomplished everything we set out to accomplish,” Taylor Dakers, the Cougars’ Director of Business told My PG Now.
“If you had asked us at the beginning of the year if that’s where we would finish, we would say ‘that sounds about right.'”
The year also saw several individual, single-season franchise records toppled.
Riley Heidt set the all time single-season assist record at 72 – which tied Connor Bedard for the league lead this year.
Hudson Thornton set the all time franchise single season records for goals and points by a defenseman, 23 goals and 74 points.
Chase Wheatcroft set the all time franchise powerplay goal record at 22 – also tying this season’s league lead – and became the second ever Cougar to eclipse 100 points, scoring 107.
Wheatcroft became one of the best individual stories in Cougar history, being picked up in the offseason in exchange for a fourth round pick, he only had 38 points last season between two teams.
Nearly tripling that this year, he finished second in league scoring and earned himself an NHL contract with the Dallas Stars.
Fellow undrafted overager Jaxsen Wiebe also signed an NHL contract with the Anaheim Ducks.
Ethan Samson and Tyler Brennan also both signed with their NHL franchises in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Prince George had four players named to BC Division All-Star teams, Wheatcroft and Samson on the first team and Heidt and Thornon on the second team – Head Coach and General Manager Mark Lamb was also nominated for the WHL’s coach of the year award.
The Cougars finished with three players in the top 10 in league scoring, and with the second best powerplay in the WHL.
For more on the Cougars’ season on the ice, click here to read this week’s Hart Attack column.
Off the ice, there was a lot of turnover and fresh faces in the Cougars’ office coming into the season, including Dakers himself – who added Director of Business to his role as the goalie coach.
“We started the year learning as much as we could,” Dakers said, mentioning the off ice team planned as much as they could but still felt they were “treading water” at times.
“We had a few nice nights in the first half of the year, later into the year we felt we hit a bit of a stride… by the end of the season, with the on ice product combined with the presentation and game night show, we were doing a good job,” he said, “we were doing what a junior hockey team is supposed to do.”
The team slowly saw attendance climb as the season progressed, and an explosion of support when the team started their playoff push.
“We were the number one team in the WHL for increase [in ticket sales] from COVID to the 2022-23 season, we beat out Kamloops for the biggest increase,” Dakers said.
When the playoffs started, Prince George saw the second largest spike in ticket sales of any team across the CHL – only behind Saskatoon, who were hosting Connor Bedard’s Regina Pats in the first round.
“The staff in the office, it is an office job but we take a lot of pride in providing Prince George with a good product,” he said, when asked what the fan support meant to the off-ice portion of the team.
“We want people to pay the ticket price and be happy with the entertainment they got regardless of the team’s performance. We want as many people in this building as possible for the pure enjoyment of it, and we want our players to enjoy playing in front of a large group of people,” he said. “It is really nice to feel like it is coming to fruition.”
Moving forward, Dakers said it is “rinse and repeat,” fans can expect staple nights that are annual successes to continue and for new ideas to keep things fresh.