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Best regular season ever for the Cougars

Photo courtesy of Larry Brunt

The 2016-17 season will officially go down as the most successful regular season in Prince George Cougars history.

Saturday night in Spokane, the Prince George Cougars scored three times in the first period en route to a 4-3 victory over the Chiefs. Jared Bethune had a goal and an assist for the Cougars while Nick McBride made 27 saves to help the Cougars to their 44th victory of the season – the most in their 23-year history. The victory kept the Cougars two points ahead of the Kelowna Rockets for first in the B.C. Division and also helped secure home ice advantage for the Cougars in Round 1 of the playoffs regardless of what happens in their final two games against Kamloops.

A night removed from a 6-1 victory in the Tri-Cities, the Cougars started strongly with three unanswered first period goals. The first one game At 13:05 courtesy of Josh Curtis who parked himself in front of the Chiefs net and converted off a Tanner Wishnowski pass from the right wing corner. Curtis’ ninth was soon followed by Jared Bethune’s 22nd, which game just a minute and 20 seconds later. Jesse Gabrielle drew the lone assist on Bethune’s marker.

Nikita Popugaev increased the lead to 3-0 when he ripped home his 29th of the season from the left circle on a power play. The Cougars power play finished one-for-two on the night and has now gone 11 for it’s last 24. The shots were 16-7 favoring the Cougars through one period.

Neither team could solve the other in period two. Chiefs starter Jayden Sittler stopped all 14 shots fired his way while Nick McBride went 10-for-10 for the Cougars who took a 3-0 lead into the final period.

Less than a minute into the third the Chiefs got on the board when Jaret Anderson-Dolan buried his 36th of the season off a shot from the left circle. Anderson-Dolan’s power play marker helped spark the Chiefs who controlled the first half of the period.

But Josh Anderson would restore the Cougars three goal lead when he snuck his third of the season through traffic and past Sittler at the 10:59 mark.

Anderson’s goal would prove to be vital because the Chiefs didn’t go away without a fight.

Kailer Yamamoto moved Spokane back within two when he buried his own rebound on a power play at 13:39. Then with the net empty and a minute and 13 seconds to go, Hudson Elynuik one-timed home his 27th of the season to move the home side within a goal.

The drama further intensified in the final minute when Colby McAuley was issued a penalty, giving Spokane their sixth power play of the night. With less than five seconds left in the game, the Chiefs had one final chance to tie the game, but Nick McBride sprawled to his right and got a tiny piece of Keanu Yamamoto’s shot with his glove as time expired to clinch the Cougars their 22ndroad victory and their 44th overall.

Prince George outshot the Chiefs 40-30 and finished the season series with a 3-1 record against the Chiefs. The Cougars victory keeps them two points ahead of Kelowna for top spot in the B.C. Division. The Rockets have six available points remaining in their season while the Cougars have four. The Rockets do hold the tie-breaker should the teams finished tied for wins and points. Meanwhile the Kamloops Blazers are no longer able to catch the Cougars in the standings, which means that at the very least the Cougars have earned home ice advantage in Round 1 of the playoffs. Kamloops still trails Kelowna by three points with only four available points remaining in their season.

The Cougars will now make the long trek home and will return to action on Friday night in Kamloops marking the first of a home-and-home with Kamloops to wrap up their regular season.

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