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Late Cougars winning goal dooms Royals in Prince George

PRINCE GEORGE 3 VICTORIA 1 Nobody is kidding themselves that the Victoria Royals and Prince George Cougars are vying for the top of the B.C. Division table in the Western Hockey League.

PRINCE GEORGE 3
VICTORIA 1

Nobody is kidding themselves that the Victoria Royals and Prince George Cougars are vying for the top of the B.C. Division table in the Western Hockey League.

“This is a good opportunity against a team we will be battling against for a playoff position,” said a realistic Royals general manager and head coach Dan Price ahead of the first of six consecutive games against the Cougars.

The Cougars won the opening game 3-1 Saturday night at CN Place in Prince George on a late winning goal by Riley Heidt at 15:52 of the third period.

It was the second goal and seventh point in four games for the 16-year-old, who again showed why he is projected for the first round of the 2023 NHL draft.

Fischer O’Brien scored his first goal of the season into an empty net to leave no doubt as the Cougars (1-3) won for the first time this season while the Royals fell to 1-5.

Tanner Scott’s first goal of the season gave Victoria the lead at 6:20 of the second period before Jonny Hooker’s fourth of the season levelled for the hosts at 14:09.

The injury-riddled Victoria squad was down to 15 skaters. Eighteen are allowed for a game.

“We pushed as hard as we could and it was a winnable game,” said Price, following the encounter.

Tyler Palmer made 29 saves in goal for Victoria.

Undrafted 20-year-old Taylor Gauthier, who was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL training camp last month as a free-agent prospect, made 22 saves for Prince George.

Several of those were timely stops as the Royals pressed early before the Cougars began inexorably to take over the game as undermanned Victoria tired.

“It feels like a playoff series,” said Price, about the six consecutive games against the Cougars.

“It has a playoff format with playoff rhythms.”

The 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.

The teams meet again today in a matinee in Prince George. The unusual series continues next Friday and Saturday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre before the return two-game set back up Highway 97 in Prince George.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com