Victoria Royals get best of Cougars again

It’s the Western Hockey League equivalent of when the Indianapolis Colts, the former Baltimore Colts, meet the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. The Prince George Cougars were the Victoria Cougars from 1971-72 to 1993-94.

The latest reprise of this intertwined history took place Saturday night at Prospera Place, which is just fine by the Royals (3-15-2). Perhaps it’s cosmic karma, but all three of their victories this season have come against the Cougars, the latest a 2-1 decision in Kelowna. It was Victoria’s first win in regulation time.

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Prince George (9-8-3) came in as the hottest team in the B.C. Division with three consecutive wins and six games with a point.

Royals coach and GM Dan Price said it is important for his young team to learn how to close out games.

“We’ve been in position to win games and tonight the guys seized the opportunity,” said Price.

The much-maligned Victoria special teams finally became a plus as over-ager Brandon Cutler, with his ninth of the season, scored unassisted shorthanded to open scoring at 5:24 of the second period and Swiss junior international Keanu Derungs scored on the power play at 16:23.

“Our special teams were clutch,” said Price.

Connor Bowie scored for the Cougars on the power play at 19:21 of the second period.

The Cougars were missing goaltender Tyler Brennan, among the two B.C. Division players and nine WHLers who won gold with Canada last week at the world U-18 championship in Texas. Brennan was the third Canadian goaltender and did not play in the tournament. It’s kind of a Cougars thing. Taylor Gauthier was the third goaltender for silver-medallist Canada earlier this year in the world junior championship in Edmonton. Gauthier, WHL goalie of the week for allowing only five goals in his last five games, got the night off as rookie Prince George goaltender Ty Young made 19 saves. Over-ager Adam Evanoff, under contract to Stockton of the AHL, was fine in making 33 saves for Victoria and was named first star.

“That was a huge response by Adam after being pulled in our previous game,” noted Price.

Meanwhile, the Kamloops Blazers (16-4) put a choke hold on the B.C. Division title with a 3-1 victory over the Vancouver Giants (11-10).

The Royals close out their 22-game pandemic-abbreviated season Tuesday in the Kamloops hub against Vancouver and Wednesday against the Rockets (8-4-1) in Kelowna.

ICE CHIPS: The Royals are 18-10-1 against Cougars over the last five years … Veteran forward Ty Yoder returned to the Victoria lineup after missing four games … The WHL has conducted 9,735 tests for COVID-19 from Feb. 12 through Friday, with 14 positive test results.

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