The Cougars led 1-0 after the first period and 3-0 through 40-minutes, before the Royals struck for four goals in a back-and-forth third period to set up overtime. Royals Captain Matt Phillips was the hero in OT, scoring his second of the game, two-minutes in.
Josh Maser had a memorable night for the Cougars, as he not only scored the Teddy Bear Toss goal, but he also recorded his first career hat-trick in the OT setback. Jackson Leppard scored in the second period, his first in 11-games. Taylor Gauthier suffered the loss in net, as he kicked-out 24 of 29 shots.
It was the start the Cougars wanted, as Maser triggered the avalanche of fur late in the opening frame. On their first power-play, Maser, tapped-in a great cross-ice pass from Brogan O’Brien for his 10th at 15:41, beating Griffen Outhouse on the blocker-side. The stuffed toys and winter clothing rained down after that, as the game paused for the clean-up. All the items will be donated to the Salvation Army in Prince George.
The Cougars picked up in the second, where they left off in the first, as Leppard doubled the Cats’ lead five-minutes into the second. Joel Lakusta kept the puck in, and pushed it down to Leppard, who spun quickly and fired a wrist-shot that beat Outhouse over the shoulder at 5:17; his first goal since November 10.
Not long after the Cougars had another opportunity to pad their lead and short-handed. Josh Curtis was awarded a penalty-shot midway through the second during a Cougars’ penalty-kill. Curtis elected to shoot on the showdown with Outhouse but just put the puck over the net on the glove-side.
That near miss didn’t seem to affect the Cougars, as they did get that third goal late in the middle stanza. Again, it was Maser and again on the power-play, as he was once more planted in the crease. Curtis moved in and shoveled the puck across the crease to Maser and he did the rest for his second at 17:07.
The Cougars led 3-0 after two periods and outshot the Royals 21-15. However, the top-scoring team in the Western Conference wasn’t going away quietly.
Victoria got on the scoresheet four-minutes into the third period, as their leading scorer Matt Phillips made it 3-1 4:06. After the puck was turned over out front, it was a quick tic-tac-toe between Igor Martynov, Tyler Soy and Phillips, who tapped it in past Gauthier. A minute and a half later the Royals were at it again.
On their sixth power-play Jared Freadrich fired a one-timer past Gauthier from the left-wing at 5:39 to cut the Cougars’ lead to 3-2. Martynov swung the cross-ice pass to Freadrich who got all of the puck from the face-off circle.
Not long after, Brogan O’Brien was knocked out of the game after he took a knee-on-knee hit at the Victoria blue-line. Kade Jensen was given a major penalty and a game misconduct for the hit. O’Brien hobbled off and did no return.
Unfortunately, the Cougars were given an unsportsmanlike penalty on the play, then they were dinged for hooking call moments later. As a result, it was a four-on-four sequence and the Royals took advantage of the extra room.
Freadrich scored his second of the period, tying the game up at three, as his blast from the point got through a crowd and underneath Gauthier at 9:37.
The Cougars did eventually get two and a half minutes of power-play time on that five-minute major penalty assed to Jensen and they didn’t let it go to waste. With less than 10-seconds left on the power-play, Ryan Schoettler had his shot go off of Maser’s chest and in at 12:12 to put the Cougars back up, 4-3. The referees did review the play but ruled it a goal, as Maser picked up his first career hat-trick.
However, the Royals came back again, as they took their turn capitalizing on a deflection in front of the net. Jared Legien threw a pass out front from the wall, and it actually went off of Dino Kambeitz and over Gauthier with less than five-minutes left. That goal pushing the game into overtime.
In OT, the Cougars had a couple of good looks early but Leppard and Curtis couldn’t get it past Outhouse. Leppard was stopped off the rush from the left-wing, and Curtis dribbled a forehand attempt out front just past the far-post.
Phillips wasn’t as unlucky, as he cut into the Cougars’ zone and scored from the circle on the left-wing 1:55 into the extra frame.
Final Score: 5-4 Victoria
Shots: 34-29 Cougars
Power-Plays: Cougars 3-4 Victoria 1-7
Three Stars: 1) Josh Maser 2) Jackson Leppard 3) Igor Martynov
Brogan O’Brien didn’t return Sunday and the team confirmed post-game he suffered a lower-body injury. The Cougars will also be without captain Dennis Cholowski next week, as he leaves for Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp in St. Catherines, Ontario.
Prince George (11-14-3-2) looks for the split against the Royals (20-10-3-0) coming up on Tuesday, December 12; puck drop is 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the TicketsNorth box office at the CN Centre, or online at www.ticketsnorth.ca
-Prince George Cougars