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Cougars outlast under-manned Victoria Royals

Hollywood had the 300. The Western Hockey League has the 13. In both cases, they lost. But not for lack of effort.
Cougars forward Craig Armstrong wheels away from Royals defenceman Gannon Laroque during action at the CN Centre in Prince George on Sunday afternoon. JAMES DOYLE PHOTO

Hollywood had the 300. The Western Hockey League has the 13. In both cases, they lost. But not for lack of effort.

With seven injuries, two ­illnesses and their captain Tarun Fizer on a pro tryout in the AHL, the Victoria Royals were reduced to 13 skaters Sunday in Prince George, five less than the 18 allowed.

“I’ve never heard of this ­happening before in the league,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

“From a roster of 25, we were missing 10 players.”

The Royals (1-6), perhaps predictably, were beaten 4-2 by the Cougars at the CN Centre as Prince George (2-3) swept the two-game set.

“We were black, blue, ­bleeding and exhausted,” said Price.

“But I’ve never been more proud of a team.”

The Royals led 2-1 in the second period on goals by Riley Gannon on the power play with his third counter of the season and Tanner Scott with his second of the campaign before the ­Cougars scored three straight to win it, the last goal into an empty net.

Gannon also had an assist for a two-point day for Victoria.

The Royals held Riley Heidt, the 16-year-old projected for the first round of the 2023 NHL draft and the game-winning goal hero for Prince George on Saturday, to one assist Sunday. But the Cougars, led by Craig Armstrong’s two goals, still got the job done.

Victoria outshot Prince George 33-21 but six-foot-three Tyler Brennan, projected for the 2022 NHL draft, was up to the task in the Cougars net. ­Connor Martin was in goal for the ­Royals.

Both teams’ penalty kills overpowered their power-play units with the Royals going 0-7 on the odd-man advantage and Prince George 0-6 in the ­Cougars’ 3-1 win Saturday night. Victoria was 1-10 on Sunday for 1-17 on the weekend and Prince George 0-3 Sunday for 0-9 on the weekend. Two of Victoria’s chances were on two-man opportunities Saturday.

“We are going to work on our power play this week,” said Price.

“But credit to Prince George. Their penalty kill blocked about 20 to 25 shots total in the two games and they were in every lane.”

The games were the first two of six straight between the Royals and Cougars, continuing Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre before the return two-game set back up in Prince George.

It is likely the first time two WHL teams have faced each other six consecutive times in the regular season. The playoff-like quirk was necessitated because the schedule was drawn up well before the announcement that the U.S. would open travel between itself and Canada on Nov. 8. So the WHL had B.C. Division teams playing only amongst themselves through October in the Western Conference. Games between B.C. Division and U.S. Division teams will begin next month. The Western Conference teams will not meet teams in the Eastern Conference during this WHL regular season.