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scamperdog
12-17-2005, 08:59 AM
Cats feasting on home cooking www.princegeorgecitizen.com


by JIM SWANSON Citizen Sports Editor

First, it was a Feather of a pass. Then it was a Stone of a shot.

Devin Featherstone, the overage defenceman for the Prince George Cougars, provided the key breakout pass that led to the game-winning goal before adding fireworks in leading the Cats to a crucial 3-0 victory over the Kamloops Blazers at CN Centre on Friday.

Featherstone, his defensive work a main reason the Cougars kept the Blazers to 20 shots on goal, made the first pass that allowed Fred Wikner to spring Colin Patterson on a break in the second period, all the offence the Cougars would need with goaltender Real Cyr keeping the slate clean for his second shutout of the season - both coming against Kamloops.

Then, with 7:19 to play in the middle frame, Featherstone's point shot on a power play - love those composite sticks - shattered a pane of glass behind Kamloops goaltender Mike Maniago. The delay of a dozen minutes that came with the Cougars up 2-0 did nothing to help the Blazers establish momentum.

Featherstone, a guy with 48 points in 244 career games, a gamebreaker? On Friday, he was all that, and a glass-breaker, too. Proof positive his shot can, indeed, break a pane of glass.

"It felt good to get points and help the team win. It's good to get out of the hole we were in," said Featherstone, whose team is 3-0 to start this nine-game homestand.

"We're going forward. This is a big win for us. They're our No. 1 rival and we're close in the standings with them, and it's fun to play them every time because it's a rough, hard battle."

Featherstone said he took some good-natured ribbing from his teammates and from referee Rob Matsuoka after the destructive shot, that left a few fans shaking glass shards from their clothes and hair.

"That's the first time I've done that in my career," laughed Featherstone. "Everyone got into it. I told the ref he should check the net, that the puck went right through it first."

After Patterson got the ball rolling, that oft-missing secondary scoring arrived. Dana Tyrell and Levi Brotnov used their speed to create a turnover, with Brotnov making a quality pass to Kirk Meaver, who beat Kamloops netminder Mike Maniago low.

Patterson added the final goal of the game in the third, marking his first two-goal game of the season.

"Patty's playing better lately, although I'm always telling him I think he can play better some nights," said Cougars head coach Mike Vandekamp.

"I haven't had a problem with Patty. He can take a lot of heat sometimes, but he's doing a lot of other things well. He needs to score to make a solid contribution to our team because that's what he does best."

In what is the WHL's best playoff chase, with two .500-or-better clubs in danger of being punted from the post-season, the Cougars (18-14-0-3) now have a three-point lead over the cellar-dwelling Blazers (18-18-0-0). The B.C. situation is a tough pill for both teams, because Prince George's 39 points would be enough to either hold down a share of first place in the mediocre U.S. Division or be all but guaranteed a playoff spot already in the East or Central.

Andy Rogers returned to the Cougars lineup, but not for the whole game. The 19-year-old defenceman, released by the national junior team earlier in the day, left the game with an apparent ankle injury in the second period, but returned for the third.

Cougars rookie defenceman Chris Vanduynhoven didn't play after the 12 minute mark of the second.

No news is ever good news in Kamloops, it seems - and that continued Friday when the team's top player, goaltender Devan Dubnyk, was kept by the national junior team. That won't help the Blazers, who may end up fuming if Dubnyk spends the next three weeks backing up ex-Cougar Justin Pogge rather than helping Kamloops through a post-Christmas schedule that has them playing seven of eight on the road.

That background explains the frustration of Kamloops GM/coach Dean Clark after Friday's loss.

"I had some things to say," Clark, who fired head coach Mark Ferner last week, said when his dressing room doors opened 25 minutes after the final buzzer.

"You can't get shut out in a hockey game and think you had enough intensity. We have to have a bit of a gut check and get ready to go (tonight). We lost (acting captain and scoring leader) Ashton Rome to a shoulder problem, and we don't know if he'll be able to play yet. But that doesn't mean we can't play hard."

KITTY LITTER: Tonight, the fur will fly - it's Teddy Bear Toss night, a 7:30 start with the same clubs on the ice. Might there finally be a decent crowd at CN Centre? The average through 16 home dates is 3,030, including last night's 2,716 total. Factored in this season's sum are the three lowest turnstile counts since the Coliseum was vacated - 2,663 last Sunday, 2,559 on Oct. 13, and the all-time low of 2,512 on Wednesday...The Cougars won all three of those games, by a combined score of 14-3. Maybe big crowds aren't the motivational factor we all think...Curious to see Prince Albert Raiders general manager Donn Clark, older brother of ex-Leaf Wendel and former Cougars assistant coach Kerry, taking in Friday's game, and not hard to surmise he's taking a long look at players on both Prince George or Kamloops as the Jan. 10 trade deadline approaches. Clark was asked if he was here visiting family: "No, I used to have family here, not any more."... The WHL has a trade freeze from Sunday through Boxing Day... The Cougars will debut 2005 bantam picks Dale Hunt and Matt Belich Dec. 27-28 at CN Centre against Spokane.




ęCopyright 2005 Prince George Citizen

scamperdog
12-19-2005, 07:18 AM
Monday, December 19, 2005 www.princegeorgecitizen.com


Cats go into break on a hot streak


by JIM SWANSON, Citizen Sports Editor

As cliched as it sounds, Eric Hunter gave Saturday's CN Centre crowd of 4,170 an early Christmas present -- or at least kept their holiday season from starting off on the wrong foot.
Hunter's goal with 3:35 remaining in the third -- and, more succinctly, just a few minutes after a PA announcement verbalized the fears of those on hand, that the Prince George Cougars might be shut out on Teddy Bear Toss night -- not only triggered a hail of stuffed toys, it also helped the Cougars make another important stride up the standings.

Hunter, a 19-year-old winger who has been through the lean years in Prince George, tied the game and then scored the deciding goal in the shootout as the Cats put another point between themselves and the Kamloops Blazers with a 2-1 victory.

"It's a good feeling, because I was definitely starting to get a little bit nervous coming down to four minutes left, especially because this game was against Kamloops," said Hunter, who leads the Cougars in scoring with 36 points in as many games.

"With it being the Teddy Bear Toss, I felt bad for the crowd. We'd had a lot of scoring chances and couldn't put them in. It ended up being an ugly goal with an empty net and a bouncing puck, but that's how things work out."

Minutes prior, Hunter and his teammates heard the instructions for fans to hold on to their plush toys until after the final buzzer if the zero stayed on the board. That was not required.

"I heard the boos, but I focused on getting that goal because we needed that goal," said Hunter.

And with that, the Cougars are a more-than-respectable 19-14-0-3, totals good for the following -- 41 points at the season's halfway point; fourth place in the toughest division in major junior hockey; and a four-point edge over the struggling Blazers.

But before anyone rushes out to secure playoff tickets, and prior to Cougars players acting like they're in the clear, a brief history lesson -- 12 months ago, Prince George had a four-point lead on Kamloops for the same final B.C. playoff spot. We all know how that one turned out.

"It's great to be 19-14 at Christmas, but when you add in that we're in a dogfight for last place in the division it's not as sweet as it could be," said Hunter.

"We're over .500 and that's something we haven't done in the past. We were striving for improvement and we have made improvements. We have a long way to go, but at least we're going up."

Kamloops goaltender Michael Maniago was the story Saturday. While he wasn't out-and-out spectacular, his impeccable positioning produced 38 saves and made the game look very much like one that would conclude with a 1-0 score -- that goal courtesy Roman Tesliuk's marker on the Blazers' first power play of the game.

But Hunter struck, not once but twice. The Teddy Bear goal -- kudos to volunteers who had the game running a scant 13 minutes later -- was followed by a scoreless overtime.

In the shootout, C.J. Stretch of Kamloops and Colin Patterson of Prince George traded goals before Hunter made the difference again.

Cougars goaltender Scott Bowles, who faced just 16 shots through 65 minutes, stopped T.J. Mulock and Brock Nixon in the shootout, earning his 15th victory in the process.

"The result isn't such a bad thing, but our effort (Friday) was," said Kamloops coach Dean Clark, still stinging over the 3-0 loss in the series opener.

"Our inconsistent play... we've been shut out eight times and we got just one (Saturday). We had chances, we're just not bearing down and putting them in the net. Ray Macias had a breakaway in both games and it makes a difference if he scores on both of them. We need better stuff from out older guys. We've got guys who are banged up. We had a pretty gutsy effort, 16-year-olds are playing great, but we need to be better."

Both teams have a week off. The Cougars return to action Dec. 27-28 with home dates against Spokane, while the Blazers, who have burned most of their home dates already, start the second half with three road stints in as many nights. Maniago will be the go-to guy with starter Devan Dubnyk on the national junior squad.