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Cariboo Cougars hammer Valley West Giants 5-1

Depth paid dividends for the Cariboo Cougars in a 5-1 Sunday win against the Valley West Giants.

The Cougars controlled much of the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League contest even though they were missing a couple of key forwards. On the ice at Kin 1, the Cats got two goals each from Jaydon Merritt and Kellan Brienen, who sparked the team offensively in the absence of top-liner Alex Ochitwa (hand injury) and team captain John Herrington, who sat out so he could skate with the junior A Prince George Spruce Kings later on Sunday.

“It’s great to have some other guys step up – that’s what we should always have,” said the 16-year-old Merritt, whose first goal of the contest proved to be the game-winner. “Even if our top guys are out of the lineup we’ve always got to find a way to win.”

The Cougars led 1-0 after the first period and 4-1 after the second.

Brienen opened the scoring with the lone goal of the first. His wrister from the right faceoff circle, off a slick drop pass from Devan Minard, beat Giants goaltender Mason Beaupit cleanly.

In the second, the Giants tied the score 1-1 on a goal by Isaiah Colina but Merritt responded 34 seconds later off a backdoor pass from defenceman Mathew Magrath and that swung momentum in favour of the home team. The Cougars kept the pressure on and were rewarded when Brienen netted his second of the game a little more than a minute after the Merritt marker. Brienen was parked at the left side of the net and knocked in a rebound after Carter Yarish started the play with a shot from the right boards.

“I definitely wasn’t happy after the first (period) and we went in (to the dressing room) and they tied it up (at 7:04 of the second) and I thought that kind of woke us up and we took control after that,” said Cougars head coach Tyler Brough.

Before the second period was done, the Cougars extended their lead to 4-1 while on a power play. Merritt notched his second of the afternoon when he hopped on a rebound off the back boards and deposited the puck into the open right side of the net.

“We had a few opportunities on the power play and we finally capitalized on one,” Brough said. “Our power play has been pretty cold of late. We’ve been working on a few things. We’ve got a few guys out of the lineup and some call-ups and stuff but we’re moving in the right direction. We’re getting wins, that’s what it’s all about, and our compete level I think is going up.”

Landon Ingham capped the scoring for the Cougars in the third period.

In the nets, Jordan Fairlie stopped 20 of 21 Valley West shots and picked up the victory.

The Cougars, meanwhile, generated 34 shots on losing goaltender Beaupit.

Forwards Scott Cousins and Linden Makow – normally members of the minor midget Cougars – were up with the major club on Sunday and also on Saturday, when the Cats edged the Giants 1-0. Cousins scored the only goal of the game in the third period when he worked his way into the slot and put home a backhander through traffic.

Cousins leads the minor midget league with 32 points in 12 games. His Saturday winner came in his first appearance at the major level and put a smile on his face.

“It was cool – definitely cool to score in front of the hometown crowd,” Cousins said. “I was just playing my game and I got rewarded, which was nice. The kids were all really good to me in the dressing room, really welcoming, so I felt confident. I knew that I could play up there.”

Fairlie turned away 21 shots in the Saturday win. The shutout was his second of the season. With two victories on the weekend, Fairlie is now 10-4-1-0 and has a 1.97 goals-against average.

The Cougars elevated their record to 14-4-1-1 and the Giants dropped to 3-10-2-5.

The Cats will be back on the road next weekend, in Kamloops for a doubleheader against the Thompson Blazers. The Cougars will then have a bye weekend and will finish off their pre-Christmas schedule with Dec. 21-22 games in Saanich against the South Island Royals.

During the Christmas break, the Cougars will be in Calgary for the prestigious Mac’s AAA Midget Tournament. Games start on Boxing Day and the championship final will face off on New Year’s Day.

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