Is a quirk in the Western Hockey League regular season schedule just the thing the Chilliwack Bruins need to pick up their post-season hopes?
Normally, the slate of games includes a whole lot of one-and-dones and the occasional home-and-home, providing little opportunity to build animosity. Hatred of an opponent usually ramps up the intensity and brings out the best in both teams, but not until you get into best-of-seven playoff series do you usually see it.
Thank goodness for the Prince George Cougars then, a team whose middle-of-nowhere location leads to creative scheduling, in this case back-to-back-to-back games against Chilliwack. The three-meet started Wednesday at Prospera Centre with a 5-2 Bruins win, and continues with two more this weekend in PG.
By the end of the weekend, these two teams should loathe each other, and hopefully the Bruins (19-18-2-1) will be better for it.
“It’s three huge games and we’ve finished one off,” said Jamie Crooks, “Now we’ve got two more big ones that we’ve got to win.”
This much we know for sure, Steve Oursov and Jesse Forsberg already share a healthy dislike for each other. Chilliwack’s Oursov and PG’s Forsberg started Wednesday’s game with a good toe-to-toe scrap, enthusiastically hammering away at each other. Oursov got the last word, tagging Forsberg with a solid right-handed bomb.
The Bruins had the offence clicking in period one, and opened the scoring at 11:09. Crooks got a well-deserved assist, sweeping a centering pass to Kevin Sundher whilst lying on his belly along the left-wing boards.
Sundher tipped the puck past Cougar keeper James Priestner for his 15th of the year.
“Goals have been tough to come by this year, but I think I have more assists this year than I did last year,” said Crooks, the game’s first star. “Goal or assist doesn’t matter though, as long as the puck goes in.”
Chilliwack’s lead doubled on a softie by Roman Horak. The Czech picked up the puck in the very, very, very high slot and floated a shot past Priestner at 15:48.
With the way they were playing, the Bruins deserved that break.
“It seems when we work for the breaks, they come a lot easier,” Crooks noted. “If you’re not working for them, you’re not going to get them. We worked tonight and we’ve got to keep doing that.”
Shots on goal in period one favoured Chilliwack 12-6.
In three prior matches between the two teams this season, every win has been via the shutout. But that odd little trend came to an end 2:35 into period two on a goal by Greg Fraser. The 18-year-old Nanaimo native got his 12th of the year on an unscreened shot from the left faceoff dot.
But with PG pressing hard for the equalizer, unlikely sniper Blair Wentworth restored the two-goal lead. The 18-year-old Calgary native took a pass from Tim Traber and roofed a shot over Priestner’s glove for his second of the year at 13:49.
Shots on goal in period two favoured Chilliwack 13-9.
Unbeaten when leading through 40 minutes (13-0-0-0), the Bruins added to their lead on Jesse Zgraggen’s first Western Hockey League goal.
A couple decades from now, the 17-year-old might remember it as a howitzer from the point.
In actuality, it was a just-put-it-on-net wrister that beat Priestner through a screen at 7:10.
Ryan Howse finished off a feed from Jamie Crooks 82 seconds later to put the game well out of reach and Fraser scored his second of the game on a late PG power play to make the final score a bit more respectable.
The Cougars were chirpy and chippy in the waning moments, particularly Jesse Forsberg.
Forsberg wanted to fight T.C. Cratsenberg and had to be restrained by two linesman when the Bruin wouldn’t take the bait.
On the ensuing power play, Howse took a two-handed slash across the wrist from Charles Inglis. There’s a good chance ill will’s going to carry over to the weekend.
“We’ve got to stay away from that, let it go and and play it like any other game,” Crooks cautioned. “Sure it might be in the back of our minds, but it’ll just make us play harder.”
Crooks was the game’s first star, followed by Blair Wentworth (second) and Jesse Zgraggen (third).
The next home game is Tuesday, Jan. 18 as Chilliwack hosts the Spokane Chiefs.