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Playoff fever highly contagious in Prince George

We are two days away from Prince George Cougars playoff hockey.

Hot off the heels of a historic regular season, the 1st-place Cougars open their 2024 postseason campaign on Friday and Saturday night from the CN Centre against the 8th-place Spokane Chiefs.

The team held a tailgate party in the CN Centre parking lot yesterday afternoon (Tuesday), allowing fans to come and meet the players, play street hockey, get a locker room tour, ride the fanboni, and have a free hot dog.

“I’m here because I want to see the boys, this is a once in a lifetime team that we’ve seen,” Marcus, a season ticket holder at the party, told My PG Now. “We are definitely prepared to go for a run now after a couple of years of building.”

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“I really love our team and our core group of guys like Riley Heidt and Koehn Ziemmer… those guys that have been core guys for a couple years now. We are reaping the rewards of what Mark Lamb has done to this team,” he said with an emphatic “GO COUGARS!”

“Anything to support the team is so important,” Doug, a fan in line for a hot dog, said. “We are so fortunate to have such a great team again this year, this is our way of being out here supporting them as well.”

Entering playoffs, he said he has nothing but positive thoughts that this season will end in a championship.

“This is a great opportunity to come out with the family to enjoy these events,” Doug said. “We are so fortunate to have the CN Centre here and really fortunate to have the Cougars.”

“I’ve been part of the Cougars for years and years and years, I love to be a part of these things,” another fan, Marie, told My PG Now, showing off her brand new signed Zac Funk jersey.

Marie was happy with the turnout, saying the fans returning to games reminded her of what the atmosphere was like when she first started watching the Cougars with her husband.

“Come out, support the Cougars. It is great, it is fun, it is entertaining, come and fill our arena with people, it would be great.”

The Prince George Cougars’ 2024 playoff tailgate bbq (Photo by Will Peters, My PG Now staff)

It does not look like Marie will be disappointed when she walks in the door for game one.

The tailgate party also saw many fans picking up their playoff ticket packages, the majority of available tickets for both games this weekend have already been sold.

Hudson Thornton, the Cougars’ captain, has been with the team since the 2021 pandemic hub season.

He played in front of a crowd in the CN Centre, which seats 6,000 fans, for the first time in 2021-22 when the team was averaging under 2,000 fans per game.

His first home playoff game was game three of the 2021-22 first round series against the Portland Winterhawks. The Cougars were down 2-0 in the series, that game only had 1821 people in attendance.

Looking over yesterday’s lively tailgate crowd, Thornton said “it is pretty cool. I think it has been a long time coming for this organization to be in the place we are right now, and with that comes fans.”

“It has been a really special year. To see the turnout this year, the sellouts we have had, it has been extremely special.”

Thornton pointed to the core group of players this team has had since the hub season – Riley Heidt, Koehn Ziemmer, Keaton Dowhaniuk, and Ty Young.

“To be where we are today is really special,” he said. “Growing up with these guys, growing as a team and growing into good players, it is a lot of memories, good times, and hard work.”

Like many of the fans in attendance, Thornton said he wished playoffs started even sooner.

“Nothing beats a sold-out CN Centre, especially during playoffs. There is not one thing in the world like it, I am honestly getting goosebumps thinking about it,” he said.

“Fans can look forward to an exciting series… they can expect a 110% effort out of our group. We are really fueled up this year to go as far as we can. The only thing we are thinking of is winning.”

All the players signed many jerseys, hats, hockey cards and more at the tailgate – Thornton said a kid had him sign his paper plate from dinner, he was also asked to hold someone’s baby for a photo.

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