Port­land of­fence cause for Cougars’ con­cern

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Ci­ti­zen staff

Team Canada is call­ing Port­land Win­ter­hawks cen­tre Cody Glass.

Look­ing at his stats this sea­son, who wouldn’t want the 19-yearold Win­nipeg na­tive on the team? Glass ranks fourth in scor­ing in the Western Hockey League with 21 goals and 51 points in 24 games.

Canada’s world ju­nior camp starts Tues­day in Vic­to­ria and Glass is likely a shoo-in to make the ros­ter. He’s done ev­ery­thing the Ve­gas Golden Knights ex­pected he would when they picked him sixth over­all as their first-ever choice in the 2017 NHL draft.

The Prince Ge­orge Cougars are about to be re­minded what Glass is all about when they get to play against him in a two-game set which starts tonight in Port­land.

As pro­duc­tive as Glass has been, there’s one other Win­ter­hawk with more points this sea­son. Dan­ish im­port Joachim Blich­feld has been dy­na­mite as the left winger on Glass’s line with right winger Ryan Hughes. Through 28 games. Blich­feld has 25 goals and 29 as­sists for 54 points and ranks third in the WHL scor­ing race, six points be­hind Brett Lea­son of the Prince Al­bert Raiders and Trey Fix-Wolan­ski of the Ed­mon­ton Oil Kings. Glass and Blich­feld each col­lected five points in their most re­cent game Sun­day, a 10-2 blowout vic­tory over the vis­it­ing Koote­nay Ice.

Port­land also has 31-point cen­tre Reece Newkirk and a cou­ple of stud de­fence­man – Jared Fread­rich (3-21-24) and Carolina Hur­ri­canes pick Bren­dan DeJong (4-12-16) – who love to jump into the rush.

The Hawks (16-10-0-2) are fly­ing high as the se­cond-place team in the U.S. Di­vi­sion. Just two other teams – Prince Al­bert (136) and Ed­mon­ton (117) – have scored more goals than Port­land (114). Com­pare that with the Cougars’ 66-goal to­tal in 28 games and it be­comes clear how dif­fi­cult a task it will be for the Cougars to sti­fle the Win­ter­hawks of­fence in back-to-back games tonight and Satur­day.

“They’ve got some horses up front with the likes of Cody Glass, a spe­cial player, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore we see him in the Na­tional League,” said Cougars head coach Richard Matvichuk.

“That Blich­feld kid is play­ing well too, as a 20. They’ve got some power up front and we’ll have to man­age the pucks in the right ar­eas and do the right things.”

“Dis­ci­pline is a huge part. We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box.”

Nei­ther team has been very good at do­ing that. The Win­ter­hawks have 422 penalty min­utes (fourth-most in the WHL), just ahead of the Cougars 413 min­utes (fifth over­all).

The Cougars (11-14-1-2) have dropped to fifth in the B.C. Di­vi­sion but they’re just three points be­hind the se­cond-place Kelowna Rock­ets, hav­ing played two fewer games than Kelowna.

The Cats prac­ticed Thurs­day in Port­land and Matvichuk said it was a high-tempo ses­sion. He’s hop­ing to see more reg­u­lar power-play point pro­duc­tion from play­ers like Josh Maser, who had a goal and two as­sists last game af­ter go­ing seven games with just one point.

“We’re just work­ing some things of­fen­sively to try to cre­ate some more of­fence and we changed a cou­ple things within our sys­tem and hope­fully they’ll pay off this week­end.

“(Maser’s) kind of snakebit­ten. He’s had the op­por­tu­nity to prob­a­bly have four to six more power-play goals. It’s not bounc­ing that way now. It’s one thing to not score on your chances, but if you weren’t get­ting the chances (which Maser is) then you’d have to go look else­where.”

The week­end games will be the first in Port­land for Cougar for­wards Ili­jah Colina and Con­nor Bowie since the Win­ter­hawks traded them to Prince Ge­orge in the Den­nis Cholowski deal.

Matvichuk in­tends to start Tay­lor Gau­thier in goal. He played both games last week­end at home against Vic­to­ria and its ob­vi­ous he still holds the role as the starter de­spite a cou­ple shaky per­for­mances the past cou­ple weeks in which his youth as a WHL goalie was ex­posed.

“We’ve got to re­mem­ber he’s only a 17-year-old kid and he has a lot of pres­sure go­ing on with his draft year and the more we can keep him fo­cused and the more he can play him through his grow­ing pains, the bet­ter he’s go­ing to be,” said Matvichuk. “You look around the league at Ian Scott (the Prince Al­bert Raiders goalie who sports a WHL-best 1.62 goals-against av­er­age). His first cou­ple years in the league wasn’t his best but all of sud­den the switch went off and his ma­tu­rity took over and he’s one of the top goal­tenders in the league.”

The Cougars gave up four first-pe­riod goals in a 5-2 loss to Vic­to­ria last Satur­day but re­bounded with a much bet­ter out­ing in the re­match Sun­day af­ter­noon when they beat the Roy­als 5-3.

“It was a tough eight min­utes, the first eight min­utes of the first pe­riod we kind of fell asleep with three break­aways and a bad goal on the power play and that’s not our team,” said Matvichuk. “Both those games were very sim­i­lar, it’s just that Vic­to­ria scored on their chances in the first one and in the se­cond one we scored on ours.”

The Cougars left on Wed­nes­day for their 11-game trip and won’t be back un­til the se­cond week of Jan­uary. The nearly six-week gap be­tween home games will be the long­est for the Cougars since the team moved from Vic­to­ria in 1994.

“The good thing about be­ing away is you’re not think­ing about the Christ­mas break or your fam­i­lies and friends and your bil­lets, so it’s al­most a bless­ing in dis­guise that we’re away,” said Matvichuk. “We’re able to keep them fo­cused and we’ll do some team bond­ing ac­tiv­i­ties planned on Sun­day. It’s a mat­ter of keep­ing them fo­cused. We need these wins when we can get them.”

The Cougars will be without one of their top for­wards tonight. Winger Jackson Lep­pard was sus­pended one game for be­ing as­sessed a game mis­con­duct at the end of Sun­day’s game. D Tyson Phare is out for the next three or four weeks with a knee in­jury, while D Cameron MacPhee had shoul­der surgery and could miss the rest of the sea­son.

The week­end games will be the first in Port­land for Cougar for­wards Ili­jah Colina and Con­nor Bowie since the Win­ter­hawks traded them to Prince Ge­orge in the Den­nis Cholowski deal.

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