In front of 4,273 screaming lumberjacks in Prince George Friday the Cougars earned an 8-4 victory over the Kamloops Blazers.
In his first game back from a month-long injury Brendan Guhle helped pace the Cougars offense with a goal and three assists and was named the game’s first star. Kody McDonald and Jared Bethune each added two goals and an assist and eight total Cougars had multi-point games in the Cougars 41st victory of the season. Collin Shirley and Lane Bauer each had two points in response for the Blazers who are now five points back of the Cougars for first in the B.C. Division.
It didn’t take long for the Cougars offence to catch fire as just 2:05 into the first period Kody McDonald converted on a power play. McDonald’s first of two on the night was assisted by both Jared Bethune and Colby McAuley.
Back came the Blazers when Luc Smith knocked home his 12th of the season at 7:30. Seconds earlier Cougars starter Ty Edmonds made an incredible lunging save, denying Blazers leading scorer Deven Sideroff of a sure goal.
Back came the Cougars at 10:02 when Kody McDonald buried his second of the period and his 15th of the season off a Jesse Gabrielle rebound. The Cougars led 2-1 after one period of play and outshot the Blazers 21-8.
Early in the second period the Cougars increased their lead to 3-1 when Colby McAuley banged home a Radovan Bondra rebound just 1:50 in. The officials reviewed the goal but decided that McAuley did not kick the puck past Blazers starter Connor Ingram. For McAuley it was his 23rd of the season and it came in his first game back from a two-game suspension.
In the next seven minutes and 51 seconds the Cougars would rattle off three more goals. It started at the 4:05 mark when Nikita Popugaev scored his 27th of the season off a breakaway. Then at 9:33, Brendan Guhle buried his 13th of the season while shorthanded to up the score to 5-1. Kamloops netminder Connor Ingram was pulled from the game in favor of Dylan Ferguson who was greeted by Radovan Bondra’s 31st of the season at 11:56 to make it a 6-1 game.
Kamloops stormed back with two quick goals at 15:10 and 17:52. First it was Travis Walton who knocked home a Lane Bauer rebound, and then Quinn Benjafield tipped home a Rudolfs Balcers point shot on a power play and the score was 6-3.
With less than 30 seconds left in the second period the Cougars would add one more when Jared Bethune finished off a Josh Curtis pass off a two-on-one rush to make the score 7-3 after 40 minutes. Shots through two periods were 41-23 for the Cougars.
Jared Bethune notched the Cougars final goal at the 3:24 mark of the third period when he converted off a slick behind-the-back feed from Kody McDonald. For Bethune it marked the 20th of his career and the first time that he’s reached the 20-goal mark in his three year career.
A late shorthanded goal from Collin Shirley wrapped up the scoring in a game which ended up 8-4. The final shots were 50-31 for the Cougars who finished the night one-for-two on the power play and three-for-four on the penalty kill.
It was a huge night for Cougars defenceman Brendan Guhle who finished the night with a goal, three assists and was a team-high +5. It was his first game since January 29th.
With the win, the Cougars improved their B.C. Division best record to 41-20-3-2. The Blazers loss coupled with the Kelowna Rockets win in Everett now means that the Kelowna Rockets have slipped into second in the division, four points back of the Cougars with a game in hand.
Tomorrow, the Cougars can at the very least maintain their four point division lead if they can manage to defeat the Kamloops Blazers in the rematch which goes at 7 p.m. at the CN Centre.