VICTORIA 7 - PRINCE GEORGE 6 (SO)
It has been more than a month in coming.
Thirteen proved lucky for the Victoria Royals on Saturday night at the CN Centre in Prince George. The Royals ended a 12-game winless streak with a 7-6 shootout Western Hockey League victory over the Prince Cougars. It was Victoria’s first win since Feb. 11 at the Langley Events Centre against the Vancouver Giants.
Royals goaltender Nicholas Cristiano faced down among the best in the in WHL in the shootout to deny Chase Wheatcroft, Koehn Ziemmer and Riley Heidt in succession. Wheatcroft is second in scoring in the WHL behind some guy named Connor Bedard. Ziemmer and Riley Heidt are the respective 20th and 26th ranked North American skaters for this year’s NHL draft.
Victoria finished the season series against Prince George 1-7-1.
“[Cristiano] was calm and he established great angles and outwaited them in staredowns,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
Not that it matters much tangibly as the lowly Royals (16-43-7) have been eliminated from the playoffs while the Western Conference fourth-place Cougars (35-24-7) are preparing to host a first-round playoff series. But these guys still have pride as the Royals players poured off the bench to mob Cristiano after he got his blocker to the final shot of the shootout taken by Heit.
“Each game still means a lot to these players,” said Price.
“It’s about developing winning habits for not just short term but the long term. And the guys want to be a part of that. They are invested in the remaining games and future seasons.”
Former Canada Under-18 player Brayden Schuurman concluded a productive night for Victoria with two regular-time goals with the winning missive in the shootout.
Riley Gannon, Teague Patton and defencemen Nate Misskey and Luke Rybinski also scored for Victoria. Ziemmer had two goals and an assist and Heidt one goal and two assists for Prince George. Wheatcroft had an assist to close out his account with 22 points on 10 goals and 12 assists in nine games against the Royals and has 47 goals and 105 points on the season behind Bedard’s 139.
The Cougars are usually tough in the net with Tyler Brennan, a fourth-round NHL draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, and Ty Young, a fifth-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks. Young made 34 saves in regulation and overtime on a busy night while Cristiano made 28 saves.
Victoria led 4-2 heading into the final period but saw the Cougars score four straight in the third period. The Royals needed two power-play goals in the final minute, aided by the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, to send it to overtime. Schuurman tied it with just six second remaining in regulation time.
If only the dramatics had counted for anything that really mattered.
The Royals close out the string Friday in Everett, Washington, against the Silvertips and next Saturday in the return game at the Memorial Centre against the Silvertips.