Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

Victoria (ISN) – The Victoria Royals squandered a chance to move into sole position of seventh place in the Western Conference by suffering a 3-1 loss to the Prince George Cougars Saturday evening in Victoria.

With a Seattle loss Saturday afternoon already in the books,  the Victoria Royals hit the ice for their Western Hockey League (WHL) game against the Prince George Cougars knowing that a win would vault them over the Thunderbirds and into seventh place in the Conference.

Unfortunately for the Royals however, that knowledge did not work in their favour, nor that of starting goaltender Keith Hamilton, who gave up three somewhat soft, first period goals to spot the Cougars to a 3-0 lead before the Royals could respond.

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Vcitoria defenceman Tyler Stahl carries the puck out from his own end during action against the Cougars Saturday evening (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)

Hitting the scoresheet first for the Cougars was defenceman Daniel Gibb, who slipped down from the point, took a nice cross-ice feed from Caleb Belter and beat Hamilton under the arm at the 8:23 mark. 
The Cougars second goal came on the powerplay at 16:39, as Belter skated over the blue line and launched a shot from high in the slot that somehow eluded Hamilton.  Nanaimo native Greg Fraser would then score shorthanded just two-and-a-half minutes later, grabbing a turn over at centre ice and breaking in off the wing and sniping a shot top corner over Hamilton’s glove.
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Victoria native Cody Carlson would earn an assist on the Cougar’s second goal Saturday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
With three relatively weak goals on ten shots, Head Coach Marc Habscheid saw enough from his starter and pulled him in favor of Jared Rathjen even though there was only 1:05 remaining in the period.
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Jared Rathjen came on in relief of starter Keith Hamilton and played well, stopping all 17 shots he faced in the second and third periods (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
Surprisingly, that move, along with a quick time-out, seemed to pay off for the Royals, as they capitalized on their power-play and at 19:22, a Hayden Rintoul point shot found its way past a Jamie Crooks screen and into the net behind Cougar starter Drew Owsley to make the score 3-1 Cougars heading into the break.
The second period was a bit of a defensive struggle but seemed to favour the Royals, especially when they carried the play for most of the first half, but they could not find a way to put anything past Owsley. 
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The Royals Ben Walker (with puck) would have another solid game, earning an assist on the Royal’s only goal and being named the game’s third star (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
A fight midway through the period between the Royal’s Keegan Kanzig and the Cougar’s Campbell Elynuik provided some excitement for the period, but also seemed to shift the tide a bit in the Cougar’s favour, even more so when the Royals were assessed two penalties to put the Cougars on the 5-on-3 powerplay.
The Royals, and notably goaltender Jared Rathjen, who made some big saves, survived the two-man disadvantage and the teams remained scoreless in the period, keeping it 3-1 Cougars at the intermission.
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A second period fight between the Royal’s Keegan Kanzig (right) and the Cougar’s Campbell Elynuik livened things up for the crowd (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
The third period was a close match to the second in that the Royals and Cougars both had some good opportunities to score, the goaltenders, Rathjen (who stopped all seventeen shots he faced over two periods) and Owsley denied those opportunities, there was another fight – this time between the Royals Tim Traber and the Cougars Reid Jackson, and neither team was able to score.
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Victoria’s Tim Traber tries to flip the puck past Cougar defenceman Daniel Gibb during third period action Saturday (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
The Royals in particular had some great opportunities late in the period, but either shot the puck wide of the mark, or were denied by the solid play of Owsley, who earned the game’s second star for his efforts.
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Cougar goaltender Drew Owsley earned the game’s second star for his 28 save, 3-1 win over the Royals (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)
With the loss, the Royals remain tied with Seattle, who lost 11-2 to Portland, for seventh place in the Conference, but now just one point up on ninth place Everett, who defeated Vancouver 4-3 in a shoot-out and two points up on the Cougars.  The Cougars, Thunderbirds and the Silvertips all hold games in hand over the Royals. 

The Royals now travel to Kamloops for a weekday game against the Blazers on Wednesday, February 22nd. Game time is slated for 7:00 p.m. at the Interior Savings Centre. Victoria will return home on Tuesday, February 28th when they play host to the Spokane Chiefs. Game time is at 7:05 p.m. at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

Game Notes: Both Victoria and Prince George were 1/5 = 20.0% on the power play. The Royals outshot the Cougars 29-27.  First star was the Cougar’s Caleb Belter with a goal and an assist. Owsley was the second star and the Royal’s Ben Walker, with an assist, earned third star honours.