The Prince George Cougars’ 2022-23 season is over after an 8-2 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds in Game 4 of the WHL Western Conference semifinal series.
The stacked Thunderbirds, with 10 NHL-drafted players, had eight different goal scorers in the game, silencing the 4,024 fans Wednesday night at CN Centre.
The full box score from the game can be found here.
Seattle outscored Prince George 25-5 over the four games.
In 11 years as a WHL coach, Cougars Head Coach and GM Mark Lamb said he’s never seen a WHL team as good as this Seattle team.
“I haven’t seen a team that put together through some trades, and they’re high-end players they brought in, first-rounders and borderline NHLers,” Lamb said.
“The coach has done an excellent job with the chemistry and not only does the team have good players, but they play very well. They play the right way, they get the puck deep, they backcheck, they come back at you hard, and they got two real good special teams on both sides and they got two really good goaltenders.”
Zac Funk scored 24 seconds into the third period, and with that goal, clinched an interesting stat for the Cougars this year.
The Cougars did not get shut out once this season in any game, pre-season, regular season, or post-season.
The Cougars’ season ended in possibly the most fitting way possible, on a Chase Wheatcroft goal with 32 seconds to go.
Ladies and gentlemen: Chase Wheatcroft, one final time. https://t.co/S5EamG30I9 pic.twitter.com/JpFiXEHWdX
— x – Prince George Cougars (@PGCougars) April 20, 2023
The Cougars’ 20-year-old was the Cat’s best player this season, breaking the team’s single-season powerplay goals record, and with 107 points on the season (2nd most in the WHL this season), became the first Cougar to eclipse the 100-point mark since Quinn Hancock had 112 in 1997-98.
“I felt pretty good to get that last one, but I knew that was kind of the end of it once it went in, so a lot of emotions came out after that goal, but I couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Wheatcroft said.
“It didn’t mean a lot, but it meant a lot to me personally to end off like that.”
Before scoring his final WHL goal tonight, Wheatcroft scored the Cougar’s biggest goal in 16 years to send them to the second round.
The final moments of the first round, brought to you by Chase Wheatcroft 🤯 pic.twitter.com/f2n6XQGSCo
— x – Prince George Cougars (@PGCougars) April 10, 2023
Wheatcroft played for the Winnipeg ICE and Lethbridge Hurricanes before being traded to Prince George, but it’s safe to say he will always be remembered as a Cougar.
“Pretty special to come here, everybody was unreal, the coaching staff, the fans, everything, I can’t thank them enough, the best billets in the world, they mean everything to me,” Wheatcroft said emotionally on the post-game show on 94.3 The Goat.
“Lot of thank yous to give out, in these last couple of days. It was unbelievable, I still can’t even comprehend what’s happened this year.”
Wheatcroft’s monster season with the Cats earned him an entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars.
“For him, it’s a dream year, he comes here not knowing what to expect, he’s a WHL player, and now he’s an NHL prospect,” Lamb said.
“He turned into one of our best players, one of the best players in the league, 100 point guy, that’s incredible, and the joy he gives the fans with his puck handling and some of the nice goals that he scored, and he’s a great teammate.”
Cole Dubinsky is another Cougar ageing out of the WHL this season, who played his heart out through injuries all season.
Dubinsky played through a high-ankle sprain, a knee injury, and a dislocated and separated shoulder throughout the playoffs before not playing in Game 4.
“I’m even amazed that he played in the playoffs, that’s how tough he is,” Lamb said.
“You put all those together and most people can’t walk, he went right to the end, he couldn’t go anymore, I don’t know anybody that’s as tough as him, and he wanted to play tonight.”
“I’d do it all over again just to play another second,” Dubinsky said.
“It’s just hard, just not being able to go out there and play, it’s just hard, it’s tough. Over all the years and the friendships you make, the memories you make, the battle, the sacrifice. From the time I was seven years old, I knew I wanted to play in this league, and I lived out my dream and it was amazing.”
Dubinsky played four years for the Regina Pats before coming to the Cougars.
“To finish off my career here, it was unbelievable,” he said.
“We gave it our best shot, the last two games might not have been the scores we wanted, but today we went out, we didn’t quit, and as I said, I’d do it every second. People don’t realize it’s the best time of your life. Your bodies heal, I just wanted to play, and I’d do it all over again.”
Dubinsky said he’s going to try and continue to fight his way to the pros.
“I love the game too much to quit now, and there’s not one bit of my body that wants to, and there’s nothing more I love than hockey.”
Only Cole Dubinsky can make a broken play look like a highlight reel goal!🤤@PGCougars pic.twitter.com/Ml6Ytje0uS
— The WHL (@TheWHL) December 31, 2022
Last but certainly not least of the three 20-year-olds is Jaxsen Wiebe, who was acquired from last year’s WHL champions, the Edmonton Oil Kings, and played for the Red Deer Rebels before that.
“My time in Prince George has been unbelievable, and that’s a great way to cap off the end of my junior career,” Wiebe said.
Wiebe was rewarded for his great season with an entry-level contract with the Anaheim Ducks.
“Once you sign that contract, you know your junior career might come to an end, but you have hockey to play after,” Wiebe said.
“With Anaheim, I’m looking forward and going to have to put in a lot of hard work this Summer and take that down to California.”
ACTION JAXSEN!!! 😼@PGCougars | @AnaheimDucks#WHLPlayoffs | #FeedingTheFuture pic.twitter.com/rvu2FykY5p
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 2, 2023
The Thunderbirds, 8-0 in the playoffs, advance to the Western Conference Final against the Kamloops Blazers or the Portland Winterhawks.
The Blazers lead the Winterhawks three games to none.