VICTORIA 4 PRINCE GEORGE 3
It was a battle of depleted teams Saturday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, and the Victoria Royals’ depth proved a little better than that of the Prince George Cougars.
It just took its sweet ol’ time showing it. After spotting the Cougars a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes, Royals veterans Austin Carroll, Jamie Crooks and Steven Hodges cranked it up in the third period and then turned it over to rookie goaltender Coleman Vollrath in the shootout and the Royals came away with yet another come-from-behind victory, this one by a 4-3 score.
“We didn’t say too much in the [second] intermission, the older guys took it upon themselves to get everyone motivated and they deserve the credit because they came out in the third and found a way to win,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry, whose club improves to 19-14-0-2.
With both teams minus their best players, for very different reasons, as well as several other key skaters, it was the Cougars’ new top line of Troy Bourke, Chase Witala and Colin Jacobs that came flying out of the gate as Witala scored twice and Jacobs got the other to give Prince George the 3-0 lead and silence the 6,025 fans in the Memorial Centre.
But a Carroll goal just 37 seconds into the third keyed the Royals’ comeback. Then it was Crooks at the 10-minute mark of the final frame on a power play, setting the tone for Bradon Magee’s tying goal with 2:39 left in regulation.
Magee and Hodges then scored in the shootout and Vollrath, who replaced starter Patrik Polivka after the Cougars’ third goal 6:30 into the second period, stopped Caleb Belter and Dalton Siwak in the shootout.
“We had a really good game [Friday] and sometimes it’s hard to produce two strong games back to back so that might be why we came out a little flat-footed,” said Carroll, who scored his seventh of the season. “But we have a good group here and the older guys took control and Coleman made some great saves in OT and shootout and we were able to pull it out.”
The Royals’ top two scorers — Alex Gogolev and Logan Nelson and their combined 67 points — watched the game from the press box with undisclosed injuries. Gogolev sat out his second straight game, while Nelson, a Buffalo Sabres draft pick last spring, was injured early in Friday night’s game against Prince George. Add to that the fact 16-year-old defencemen Joe Hicketts and Ryan Gagnon were playing for Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Quebec, and the Royals’ attack was missing much of its arsenal.
“Missing all those guys hurts a lot, but, for the second half of this game, we got all four lines rolling and that’s what you need when you’re short guys,” Carroll added.
After Friday night’s 5-1 loss to the Royals, the Cougars (12-19-1-4), looked headed toward yet another dismal season under the guidance of longtime general manager Dallas Thompson. And they won’t be able to look to their star centre Alex Forsberg for any help. The first overall pick in the 2010 WHL bantam draft didn’t return to Prince George after the Christmas break, choosing to stay home in Saskatchewan after requesting a trade. Forsberg had nine goals and 10 assists in 31 games, but was an astonishing minus-18.
Going into Saturday’s action, the Cougars trailed the Everett Silvertips by two points in the battle for the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the West. If they do miss the playoffs this season, it will be the third time in the last four seasons Prince George has failed to make post-season play.
The Royals outshot the Cougars 45-20. Vollrath stopped all 10 shots he faced for his second win, while Mac Engel went the distance for Prince George, which has to turn around and face the Giants in Vancouver today.
The Royals now head to Kelowna for a matchup with the Rockets on Wednesday. Then it’s back home for a pair of games against the Tri-City Americans on Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
LOOSE PUCKS: At the World U-17 Challenge in Quebec, Hicketts was held off the scoresheet during regulation but came to life in overtime as the Royals’ rookie blueliner scored the game-winner in an 8-7 victory over Russia in the tournament opener for both teams. Victoria native Dyson Mayo, who plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings, picked up one assist.
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