As far as the numbers go, there's not much that separates Ty Edmonds and Austin Lotz.
Both are posting stratospheric statistics tending goal for their respective Western Hockey League teams.
Edmonds was spectacular in the Prince George Cougars nets last week as the Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the week. The 17-year-old native of Winnipeg posting two shutouts and a pair of wins while stopping 81 saves of 82 shots.
Lotz hasn't been too shabby either. The 18-year-old WHL veteran backstopped the Silvertips to a 2-1 win Tuesday in Red Deer and was the goalie of record in the Silvertips' 4-2 win Wednesday in Edmonton. In two home games last weekend, Lotz allowed just one goal while losing 1-0 to Spokane in overtime, a night after he blanked Tri-City 2-0 for his first shutout of the season.
Edmonds and Lotz are the likely starters for their teams tonight (7 p.m.) when the Cougars (4-4-0-0) meet the Silvertips (5-1-1-0) in the first of a two-game set at CN Centre. Lotz is from St. Adolphe, Man., close to Winnipeg, and he and Edmonds know each other well.
"I'm pretty decent friends with him and him and I trained together back home this summer,"said Edmonds. "I've watched him a lot over the last couple years and he's always been someone I look up to and he's cool to train with. Seeing him excel is something I'm pretty happy for."
The Silvertips have the league's best defensive record, allowing just 14 goals in seven games. The Cougars have given up 25 goals in eight games, 23 of which came in their four losses. Edmonds has allowed just 10 of those goals. His 1.68 goals-against average and .939 save percentage rank him second in the league behind Eric Williams of Spokane and just ahead of Lotz, whose 1.74 GAA and .934 save percentage are third-best in the WHL.
In the only other meeting between the teams this season, Sept. 20 in Everett, the Cougars took their lumps, losing 8-4 while giving up four power-play goals. The Cougars' much-maligned special teams have been one of the primary focal points of practice this week and that could well be a deciding factor in the two games this weekend.
"We saw in Everett they're very talented offensively and we have to shut them down early and not give them any second or third chances and if we keep the shots under 30 we have a good chance of winning," said Edmonds.
Edmonds, who played last season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, isn't about to let his CHL honour go to his head. He says the award is more a reflection of his team's commitment to blocking shots and keeping the puck out of the defensive end
"It's awesome to get recognized but it's not just me, the team's been playing awesome in front of me and without them I wouldn't have gotten the award," said Edmonds. "I'm a lot more calm in front of the net and I'm making the saves a lot easier than I used to and that's helping me out with rebound control so there are less second chances for teams to capitalize on."
Staying away from penalties will be key this weekend for the Cats, the least disciplined team in the WHL, averaging 22.9 minutes in penalties per game. The Silvertips are third-best in that category, averaging 13.9 minutes of purgatory time per game. The power-play stats favour Everett (26.5 success rate, eighth in the WHL) as compared to the Cougars (9.5 per cent, 20th).
"Special teams will win or lose you games and I like the direction we're headed," said Cougars head coach Mark Holick. "[The Silvertips] record speaks for itself, they play as a group very well and there's not a lot of individualistic play going on and I think we match up real well. In the games we've won we've played very well as a group and played very structured and we didn't take a lot of penalties. Neither team likes to give up many opportunities in the paint and I think it's the team that works the hardest in the hard areas that will win."
The Cougars will be missing some of their top offensive players. C David Soltes (lower-body injury), C Alex Forsberg (lower body), LW Jari Erricson (lower body) and D Sam Ruopp (upper body) are not expected to play. Forsberg and Ruopp skated in practice Thursday wearing yellow (no-contact) jerseys. Soltes was injured in the game in Everett and Erricson hasn't played since the third game of the season in Tri-Cities. If Forsberg can't play, rookie Jansen Harkins will take his place as the top-line centre on a line with Klarc Wilson and Zach Pochiro.
Erricson played two seasons for the Silvertips and joined the Cougars in May 2012 in a trade along with Everett's first-round bantam pick in 2012 (which the Cougars used to draft Brad Morrison), in exchange for the C Jujhar Khaira ( a former Prince George Spruce King) and the Cougars' 11th overall pick in 2012 and a third-rounder in 2012.
Tonight's game marks the return to Prince George of Everett head coach Kevin Constantine, an NHL head coach for seven seasons with San Jose, Pittsburgh and New Jersey. Constantine was the original coach of the Silvertips when they joined the WHL as an expansion team in 2003-04 and got them all the way to the WHL final, which ended with a 4-0 series loss to Medicine Hat. He left Everett to coach Houston of the AHL for three seasons before moving to Europe for a three-season stint in the Swiss A-League.