The Prince George Cougars kicked-off their 2018 home schedule in style, topping the Tri-City Americans 4-3 at the CN Centre on Friday night.
Jared Bethune picked up his first hat-trick of the season and second of his career, as the Cougars won their first home game in the New Year. Josh Maser also scored and Tavin Grant kicked-out 34 of 37 shots for his 10th win.
Both Bethune and Maser (1-2-3) finished with three points and Dennis Cholowski and Joel Lakusta each had two assists.
It was a welcomed returned home for Prince George, as it was their first home game since December 12th, after a seven-game road trip.
Nolan Yaremko, Sasha Mutala and Riley Sawchuk scored for Tri-City, who are winless in their first two games of their BC Division road trip. Patrick Dea was tagged with the loss, surrendering four goals on 20 shots.
Despite a strong push off the start from Tri-City, it was the Cougars opening the scoring late in the first period. On the Cougars first power-play of the game, Jared Bethune scored his first of three on the night, wiring a one-timer from the right-circle at 14:42; Bethune scoring his first goal since December 2nd. He scored again before the period was out and from the nearly the identical spot.
Joel Lakusta took the puck around the net, then fed it back across to Bethune, and again from the right-circle, he muscled in a one-timer past Dea on the short-side at 16:51. The Cougars scoring two goals on their first seven shots.
Emotions flared late in the first, as Jackson Leppard shed the mitts with Mitchell Brown inside the final minute, as both combatants exchanged blows before the linesmen stepped in.
The Americans cut into the deficit early in the second period, as Yaremko dropped to one knee, and hammered a shot out front, post and in, past Tavin Grant at 1:41. Parker AuCoin dished the puck from behind the net out front to Yaremko.
Prince George had a rebuttal, restoring their two-goal lead midway through the middle frame. Josh Anderson purposefully shot the puck wide off the back boards, and it bounced right back out to Josh Maser, who quickly put the puck between Dea’s legs at 11:58; Maser scoring his 16th on the season.
The Cougars, who were 10-1-2-0 this season when leading after two periods, were up 3-1 after 40-minutes.
Bethune finished off the hat-trick not even seven-minutes into the third period, again scoring from the right-wing face-off circle. On another Prince George power-play, the puck was worked around the perimeter, before Bethune fired another one-timer that went off the cross-bar and in at 6:40. Bethune picking up his 12th goal and first hat-trick since September 27th, 2016, against Vancouver.
Down 4-1 in the third, the Americans started to make a push in the last 10-minutes. Tri-City made it 4-2 just before the halfway mark, when Sasha Mutala tapped-in a power-play goal at 9:46. Then, with the net empty, the Americans made it a one-goal game. Riley Sawchuk squeezed his shot between the goalie and the near-post to make it 4-3 with just 60-seconds left on the clock.
The Americans kept the extra-attacker out in the final minute, but the Cougars held off the last gasp comeback attempt by Tri-City.
Final Score: 4-3 Cougars
Power-Plays: Cougars 2-3 Tri-City 1-5
Shots: 37-20 Tri-City
Three Stars: 1) Jared Bethune 2) Josh Maser 3) Tavin Grant
The Cougars (15-18-4-2) face the Americans (20-12-5-0) once again tomorrow night at 7 pm, in the back half of their weekend doubleheader. Tickets are available at the TicketsNorth box office, or online at www.ticketsnorth.ca
-Prince George Cougars