Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Prince George Cougars jumped out to 3-0 and 4-1 leads and then hung on for a 4-3 victory over the Victoria Royals in Western Hockey League (WHL) action Saturday night in front of 5,293 fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria.
Victoria’s Greg Chase (15) carries the puck into the Cougar’s zone ahead of Prince George’s Marc McNulty (3). Chase would finish with a goal and an assist on the evening (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
St. Louis Blues draft pick Zach Pochiro led the way for the Cougars with a pair of goals, including one on the power play, while Victoria native Haydn Hopkins, and Aaron Boyd had the others. Tyler Soy, with a pair, and Greg Chase replied for the Royals.
Coleman Vollrath got the start for the Royals and stopped 17 of 20 shots before being replaced after the third Cougars goal by Jayden Sittler. Sittler stopped 9 of 10 in relief. Ty Edmonds was between the pipes for the Cougars and stopped 16 of 19 to pick up his 16th win of the season.
Victoria’s Ryan Gagnon (3), playing in his 150th game as a Royal, eludes the forecheck of the Cougar’s Jansen Harkins (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
This being the first game for both teams following the Christmas break, it appeared that the Royals enjoyed the break far more than the Cougars, as they came out very sluggish in the first period and were outplayed badly by the Cougars and were outshot 14-5 despite having three power play opportunities.
It was only thanks to some big saves by Vollrath, that the score was only 1-0 at the first intermission, with the Cougars’ goal coming off the stick of Pochiro (his first of the night) at the 2:57 mark.
Prince Geroge’s Jari Erricson (15) and Victoria’s Ralph Jarratt (4) create traffic in front of Royals’ goaltender Coleman Vollrath during first period action Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The second period was no better for the Royals, as the Cougars would score three more goals before the period was out to take a 4-1 lead into the third. Hopkins put the Cougars up 2-0 5:26 into the period as he skated into the slot and beat Vollrath cleanly for his second goal of the season. Just 2:30 later, Boyd notched his second of the year when he tipped a point shot through Vollrath to put the Cougars up 3-0.
The Royals would get on the board four minutes later thanks to the solid play of Tyler Soy, who picked up a puck at the faceoff circle and made some fancy moves to beat Edmonds from the side of the net to make the score 3-1. The goal avenged a play moments earlier, when Soy was denied by Edmonds on a penalty shot.
Victoria’s Tyler Soy (17) would be, hands down, the best Royals player on the ice on Saturday, scoring two of the Royal’s three goals, including his first at the end of this rush (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Royals then found themselves in some penalty trouble late in the period and with two men in the box, the Cougars capitalized when Pochiro notched his second of the night at the 16:25 mark to put the Cougars up 4-1 at the break.
Victoria would finally start to find their post-Christmas legs in the third period and began taking the play to the Cougars. They would be rewarded for this at the 10:16 mark when Soy would bang home a Greg Chase rebound for his second of the night to make the score 4-2.
Victoria’s Axel Blomqvist (23) gets a shot off in front of the Cougar’s Kirk Bear (4) during the second period Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Royals would keep pressing and with the goaltender pulled would pull within one at the 18:58 mark when Greg Chase scored his seventh of the season.
They would continue to press over the final minute, but Edmonds and the Cougar’s defence would hold the fort and Prince George would escape with the 4-3 win.
The Royals are now winless in their last five games, all of which have come under the guidance of Assistant Coach Enio Sacilotto, who has taken over for Head Coach Dave Lowry who is with the Canadian Junior National Team. While he is likely feeling some pressure to find a way to win without Lowry, Sacilotto did not seem too worried in his post-game comments, “At this level, I am not too worried about that, I can park those kinds of emotions and move on. The important thing is we need to find a way to eliminate the poor starts. We need to start playing the first period like we play the third period.”
Victoria’s Taylor Crunk carries the puck through the neutral zone Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Royals were also without the services of Joe Hicketts (Junior National Team) and Brandon Magee (injury) and they were sorely missed, especially on the Royals power play that went zero for five on the night.
With the win, the Cougars snapped a three game losing streak and improved their record to 18-18. They are now just one point behind the Royals for second place in the BC Division.
Neither team will have long to dwell on Saturday night’s game, as they hit the ice again in Victoria on Sunday in a 1:00 pm start.
Prince George’s Zach Pochiro (13), who would score a pair of goals, seems to find something humourous in this discussion with Victoria’s Travis Brown (6) and linesman Riley Friesen (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Game Notes: With his two goals, Tyler Soy now has 6 goals and 5 assists in his last eight games. Victoria’s Ryan Gagnon played in his 150th game as a Royal on Saturday. Head Coach Dave Lowry and defenceman Joe Hicketts are now 2-0 with the Junior National team as they defeated Germany 4-0 Saturday.