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Cariboo Cougars earn split at Winter Classic in Fort St. James

After a hard-fought, tight-checking loss on outdoor ice, the Cariboo Cougars kicked their power play into high gear in an indoor rematch and gained a weekend split with the Vancouver Northwest Hawks.

The two B.C. Hockey Major Midget League clubs clashed on Saturday night on the outdoor surface of Ernie Sam Memorial Arena, located on Nak’azdli Whut’en territory in Fort St. James. The Cougars fell 2-0 in the game, dubbed the Winter Classic. On Sunday afternoon, with the Fort Forum as the host venue, the Cats skated to a 7-4 victory.

In the Winter Classic, Hayden Gelbard of the Hawks connected on a power-play in the final 10 minutes of the second period and that was the only goal of the game until Ben Julius Kotylak hit an empty net with 1:05 left in the third period. Vancouver Northwest goaltender Jayden Shull earned the shutout, while counterpart Kenny Gerow was outstanding in defeat.

On Sunday, the Cougars scored four power-play goals on 11 man-advantage opportunities. They got two pucks past Hawks goalie Jameson Kaine in the first period and led 2-0 going into the second. The early Cariboo lead proved critical because it gave the Cougars a cushion after each team struck four times in a wild middle frame. The Cougars added an unanswered goal in the third period for the margin of victory.

Forwards Nico Myatovic and Hunter Brown (power play) got the Cougars off to the good start. Alex Ochitwa (two power-play goals), Fischer O’Brien and Brennan Bott (power play) added to the Cariboo total in the second period and Carter Yarish had the insurance marker, into an empty net, in the third.

Owen Howard, Kotylak (2) and John Babcock responded for the Giants, who went one-for-four on power plays.

For both games, the Cougars wore throwback Cariboo Canucks jerseys.

With the results, the fifth-place Cougars moved to 18-8-1-1 on the season. The Hawks now sit at 21-8-0-1 and dropped into third place in the 11-team league.

The Cougars will be in Burnaby next weekend for a pair of key games against the fourth-place Vancouver Northeast Chiefs (19-7-0-0).

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