The Prince George Cougars are back on home ice tonight at CN Centre to play the Spokane Chiefs and they’ll be icing a lineup that, for the first time in a long time, includes top-line centre Ilijah Colina.
The 20-year-old from North Delta hasn’t played a regular-season game since Jan. 27, when the Cougars finished off their Alberta roadtrip in Edmonton. Colina was struggling with a personal issue at the time and returned home for the rest of the season after putting up six goals and six assists in 39 games.
He returned for the start of training camp in September and played for the Cougars in preseason games against Kamloops and Vancouver but suffered a shoulder injury in the Vancouver game after picking up a goal and an assist.
Colina will likely be slotted at centre on a line with Josh Maser and Reid Perepeluk. Maser, 20, has been on a hot streak lately with four goals in the past four games. He helped the Cougars to a 3-1 win over the Chiefs in Spokane last Friday and scored one of the two goals in a 4-2 road loss Saturday to the Tri-City Americans.
The Cougars welcomed defenceman Cole Moberg back to the lineup last weekend and he was back playing the power play on the roadtrip as a roving forward. Forward Jackson Leppard also returned to action last weekend after missing three games with a lower-body injury.
Goalie Tyler Brennan, who got hurt last week in practice and missed the trip to the States, is back to health and will be backing up starter Taylor Gauthier. To make room for Brennan on the roster the Cougars sent Jacob Herman back to his Swift Current midget team.
The Cougars learned early this week they won’t have Brennan’s services during the first 10 days of November. The 16-year-old rookie is one of six goalies picked for the three-team Canadian roster for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Nov. 2-9 in Medicine Hat, Alta., and Swift Current, Sask.
Brennan was solid in his first WHL start two Saturdays ago against the Kelowna Rockets at CN Centre, making 26 saves in a 4-1 for his first career victory.
Gauthier, 18, has been a game star in three of the last four games the Cougars have played and is coming off a 44-save performance in the win in Spokane. In seven games he has a 2.92 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
Centre Ethan Browne will be a game-time decision tonight. He’s missed three games with a lower-body issue. The Cougars have also sent 18-year-old defenceman Cole Beamin to the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
The Chiefs (5-2-0-1) rank fourth in the U.S. Division and have nine points, one point behind the third-place Americans. The Cougars (2-5-0-1) are tied in points with the fourth-place Victoria Royals in the B.C. Division standings, each with five.
Spokane will be without three regulars. Right winger Jake McGrew, who signed an NHL contract with the San Jose Sharks, is out week-to-week with upper- and lower-body injuries. Defenceman Jason Chudley is nursing an upper-body injury and starting goalie Lukas Parik, a Czech Republic native drafted this year by the Los Angeles Kings, is sidelined with a lower-body injury, listed as week-to-week.
Earlier this week the Chiefs acquired goalie Brett Balas in a trade from the Prince Albert Raiders for a ninth-round bantam pick in 2023.
Tonight’s game marks the Prince George return for Chiefs associate coach Adam Maglio. Maglio coached the Prince George Spruce Kings for four seasons and last year as head coach took them to their first BCHL championship.