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Cariboo Cougars post come-from-behind win Sunday

The Cariboo Cougars were rewarded for a gritty effort against the Valley West Giants on Sunday afternoon at Kin 1.

In the BC Elite Hockey League contest, the U18 Cougars erased a 2-1 third-period deficit and won 4-2. The Cougars got a tying goal from Amar Powar, who went crossbar-and-in on Valley West goaltender Matthew Candusso at the 11:01 mark, and kept pushing for the winner as the clock ticked down. With just over a minute to go, forward Josh Sale kept the puck inside the Valley West blueline with a strong play along the left boards. He forced his way down low and worked the puck to teammate Max Sanford, who put it home with 57.1 seconds left.

 Sanford, a Williams Lake resident and Western Hockey League prospect of the Kelowna Rockets, then hit an empty net to secure the victory.

“That’s exactly what we’re selling to these guys – we’re going to have to make those hard-area plays a lot,” Cougars head coach Tyler Brough said of Sale’s contribution on the winning goal. “We’re not going to be a pretty team. We’re a meat-and-potatoes, hard-working group that is going to have to pay attention to detail and make plays like that – maybe take a hit to make a play, and that’s exactly what ended up happening.”

Sale is from Prince George, and his junior hockey rights belong to the WHL Cougars.

In Sunday’s win, the Cougars outshot the Giants 35-28 but nothing came easily against Candusso. He was sharp when tested, including on four Cariboo power plays that came up empty.

Brough was pleased with his club’s perseverance.

“It was a great comeback win for us,” said Brough, who saw the Cats fall 8-5 to the Giants on Saturday night in the Cariboo home-opener. “(On Saturday) there were some glaring errors that we made defensively.

“I thought defensively we locked it down quite a bit (on Sunday). We were a bit hesitant offensively, just focusing so much on our defensive play, but it was gutsy. We got the goals that we needed, pushed when we needed to, and got the weekend split. After losing Saturday, you’ve got to get that game Sunday to keep moving up the standings, and that’s our goal.”

Prince George product Tysen Smith was the winning goaltender for the Cougars. He started Saturday’s game but was replaced by Vanderhoof’s Damien Knackstedt. Smith was up to the challenge in the rematch.

“We knew Tysen was going to come back and give us a game, that’s why we went with him again,” Brough said.

The Giants scored the game’s first goal in the opening moments of the second period on a great effort by James Fuchs, who fought off two Cariboo defenders on the rush and slid the puck low past Smith.

The Cougars tied the game at 1-1 thanks to captain Decker Mujcin, who found a gap in Candusso and scored from the left post.

The Giants retook the lead moments later on a slick wrister from Miles Burgin that beat Smith on the blocker side.

The Cougars held the edge in shots in the middle frame, 14-12, but had trouble cashing in around the net, including while on a five-on-three man-advantage situation before Mujcin’s goal.

The Giants outshot the Cougars 9-6 in a scoreless first period.

Smith was strong in the Cariboo net, one of his saves on a shorthanded breakaway by Andrew Petruk in the final five minutes. Later, with the Giants on a power play, Smith made an initial save and then took away a rebound attempt with a stretch of his left pad.

The Cougars got their best chance on that same Valley West power play. Sanford elected to shoot on a two-on-one break but was turned away by Candusso.

With the weekend results, the Cougars now have a 2-2 record. The Giants sit at 2-1-1.

The Cougars will be in Victoria next weekend for a pair of games against the South Island Royals. The puck will drop on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 7 a.m.

Saturday: Giants 8 Cougars 5

Two late goals by Samuel Elliott lifted the Valley West Giants to an 8-5 win over the Cariboo Cougars on Saturday at Kin 1.

In the home-opener for the U18 Cougars, Zachary Leslie pulled them into a 6-5 deficit half way through the third period but Elliott answered a minute later and then scored again with 6:32 left on the clock to seal the victory for the Giants.

In the BC Elite Hockey League, the Cougars saw their record drop to 1-2, while the Giants improved to 2-0-1.

The Giants led 2-1 after the first period and 5-3 after the second.

Chase Pacheco paced the Cougars offensively with a pair of goals. The other Cariboo marksmen were Decker Mujcin and Mitchell Lennox. Leslie and Mujcin both finished with three points. In the early part of the season, Mujcin leads the league in scoring with 10 points in three games (four goals, six assists).

Andrew Petruk, Logan Johnston, Payton Hu (2), Samuel Diestro and Sheldyn Scott had the other goals for the Giants.

In the nets, Brett Bateman picked up the win for the Giants. For the Cats, Tysen Smith started the game and Damien Knackstedt came on in relief.

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