The Prince George Cougars picked up their first home win of the 2017-18 season Tuesday and did so in convincing fashion, thumping the Calgary Hitmen 7-1 at the CN Centre.
Kody McDonald led the way posting his second career hat-trick, and the Cougars also got goals from Jared Bethune, Aaron Boyd, Josh Maser and Vladislav Mikhalchuk. McDonald and Bethune each finished with three-point nights and 12 Cougars had a point in the win.
It was also a milestone night in the crease, as goaltender Taylor Gauthier picked up his first career WHL win, stopping 16 of 17 shots. The only blemish on his night was Matteo Gennaro spoiling his shutout bid with a second period power-play goal.
After a scoreless first period, the Cougars exploded for four goals in the second frame. McDonald opened the scoring just 69-seconds in, taking a pass out of the corner from Bethune and firing the puck over Nick Schneider’s shoulder. The Cougars didn’t take long to double their lead.
Mikhalchuk made it 2-0 a minute and a half later, keeping the puck on a two-on-one and going upstairs underneath the cross-bar from the left-wing at 2:43. Rookies Liam Ryan and Max Kryski drew assists on that goal, their first points in the WHL.
Prince George kept coming and 10-mintues later, as Bethune got in on the scoring with a highlight reel effort- short-handed. The 20-year-old raced up ice and put the puck between the defenceman’s legs as he jumped around him, before going over Schneider’s shoulder at 12:15; the second short-handed goal the Cougars have scored this year.
After Gennaro scored on a power-play to cut the Cougars’ lead to 3-1, it was Josh Maser getting that goal back in the dying moments of the period. With just six-seconds left on the clock, Maser scooped in a rebound after Joel Lakusta had his point-shot stopped; that goal sending the Cougars to the intermission up 4-1.
Calgary switched goalies to start the third, as Matt Armitage came in to replace Schneider, but Prince George kept their foot on the gas and scored three more times.
McDonald got his second goal of the night on a power-play, despite his stick breaking in two. Dennis Cholowski set up McDonald for the one-timer from the left-wing and his blast went clean in on the short-side at 9:37; McDonald broke his stick in half on the follow through.
The penalty-kill was at it again, as Boyd scored the Cougars second short-handed goal of the night with just over three-minutes left. Josh Curtis intercepted the puck at his own blue-line and sent Boyd on a break down the middle, and the 20-year-old snapped the puck over the arm of Matt Armitage to make it 6-1.
McDonald then scored his hat-trick goal with just two-minutes left in the game and it wasn’t conventional by any means. The Lethbridge, Alberta, product found the puck behind the net and threw it out front. The puck ended up going off a leg and then up and over the back of Armitage and just fluttered across the goal-line, before the goalie yanked it back out. After a quick video review, the goal was confirmed.
Prince George held Calgary without a shot for the first 15-minutes of the third and ended up outshooting them 16-2 over the final 20-minutes.
Final Score: 7-1 Cougars
Shots: 34-17 Cougars
Power-Plays: Cougars 2-7 Hitmen 1-4
Three Stars: 1) Jared Bethune 2) Kody McDonald 3) Josh Maser
Prince George (3-3-2) now has eight points and they’re only one point back of the Kelowna Rockets for second place in the BC Division; Kelowna was idle Tuesday. McDonald has cracked the top 20 in WHL scoring, as he sits 18th with seven goals and 11 points. McDonald’s first hat-trick was back on January 12th, 2016, against Seattle. The seven goals are a season high for Prince George, as they previously scored six goals against Kamloops and Kelowna respectively.
The Cougars host the Kamloops Blazers for a weekend doubleheader starting Friday at the CN Centre. Tickets are available at the TicketsNorth box office at the CN Centre, or online at www.ticketsnorth.ca
-Prince George Cougars