A home opener is special!
Yes, the points count the same as any other regular-season game; yes, it’s not the intensity of a playoff game; yes, in reality, it’s just the start of a long grind.
Players, coaches, and fans usually get excited about the opening night; this is the time of the hockey year when all organizations have hope, promise, belief, and confidence.
How long the feeling continues varies from team to team and city to city.
The significance of the first game in front of the home crowd, in essence, has little to do with the standings or the opponent, the power-play, or line match-ups.
This is about the return of the team and WHL after a lengthy absence.
Naturally, not everything will be judged on the result and the effort of this one particular game, but this is the start of a journey that can help set the tone.
It is one thing to play a home game in mid-November or late January, and yet another when the gun fires to signal a new beginning.
The Prince George Cougars will be in the spotlight this weekend as they return to CN Centre with the Tri-City Americans their first opponent.
This is all about soaking in an opening night that truly is its own entity.
All that’s left … is to drop the puck!
Hooray! And welcome back!
This season expectations are very high for the Cougars who should return an estimated 13 players from last season’s team that won a round in the playoffs for the first time in 16 years.
Even head coach and GM Mark Lamb admitted in this week’s Cat Scan podcast that many people are picking Prince George to finish first in the B.C. Division.
“It is all fine and dandy to say that but you have to put in the work. You can put it on paper, you can go from where you were last year but every year is a reset. It doesn’t matter what you did last year. It matters what you do today and when you get to tomorrow it matters what you do that day but we are very optimistic where we are right now,’ said Lamb on the podcast.
The Cougars came second in 2022-23, behind Kamloops in a year the Blazers went all-in while hosting the Memorial Cup.
As a result, the Blazers have lost plenty of offensive firepower, which in theory should drop them in the standings.
The three teams behind P.G. last year in the division standings, Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria, would still appear to be in a rebuilding phase, although rosters can get upgraded and there are always surprises.
Nearly half of the Cougars games (32) are within their own division, eight against each of the other four teams.
In addition, they have 25 games against the U.S. Division, four each against Tri-City, Portland, Seattle, Everett and Spokane and five against Wenatchee (formerly Winnipeg Ice).
The Cougars should get off to a good start with seven of their first nine games at home starting with a doubleheader against Tri-City, the team the Cats knocked out of the 2023 playoffs in six games in the opening round.
In fact, the Cougars have nine of their first 12 on home ice before heading out on a 5-game East Division road trip.
Prince George will play 24 of its 34 home games on a weekend; 11 on Fridays, 10 on Saturdays, two on Sundays and one on a holiday Monday (Feb 19th).
The team also has four games at CN Centre on Tuesdays, four on Wednesdays, one on a Thursday and one on a holiday Monday.
The Cougars should benefit from having their longest road trips consisting of five games, which they will do four times, including a swing to the East Division (Moose Jaw, Regina, Brandon, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert) in late October-early November.
This is actually a big plus as in past seasons (including 22-23) they have had a six and a-seven-game road trip.
The PG Cougars regular season schedule is here.
The PG Cougars preview from the WHL is here.
— My Prince George Now (@mypgnow) September 20, 2023
Cat Scan podcast:
This is season six of Hartley’s Cat Scan, a weekly podcast show that predominately features the PG Cougars.
My first guest for the new season is Mark Lamb, who enters his 6th season as the Cougars Super Boss (head coach and GM).
It’s back. The return of @PGCougars Cat Scan #podcast. Coach/GM Mark Lamb discusses the Cougars taking the next step & embracing the role as favourites in the BC Division; adding Jim Playfair as a full-time coach, the 20-year-old situation, & the pre-season trip to Grande Cache. https://t.co/aSPzLeF9H5
— Hartley Miller (@Hartley_Miller) September 19, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
ESPN reports it’s “not out of the question” that Aaron Rodgers could return this season. Is he treating himself with ivermectin?
There is a report that Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce dated 50 women at one time before his current fling with Taylor Swift. 50 at one time? Who does he think he is, Wilt Chamberlain?
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
For a time, a long-shot horse I bet on in the third race last weekend at Assiniboia Downs (in Winnipeg) was leading the pack. Sadly, it wasn’t furlong.
Hartley Miller is the news and sports supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. After growing up in Winnipeg, he has lived in Prince George for the last 44 years and is entering his 11th season as the radio colour commentator on the Prince George Cougars home games. Hartley is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).