It was an Olympian hurdle for the Cariboo Cougars to try to contain the Okanagan Rockets in the wide-open expanses of the Kin 1 rink.
After losing to 9-2 to the B.C. Major Midget Hockey frontrunners in Saturday's inaugural game in their new barn, just when it appeared the Cougars might have what it took to pull off an upset in Sunday's rematch, along came Tyson Jost to spoil their party.
Jost, the league's leading scorer, padded his stats with a hat trick that lifted the Rockets to a come-from-behind 5-4 win over the Cougars, less than a day after he lit up the Cats with four goals and an assist. It was just the kind of weekend the Rockets have come to expect from their budding superstar, whose first goal Sunday set a new team record for goals in a season with 37.
Jost added two more goals in the third period to erase a 4-3 deficit to allow the Rockets to keep pace with the Vancouver Northwest Giants. Both teams are tied with 31-5-2 records.
The Rockets were down to 12 skaters early in the game Sunday when the Jost's linemate Liam Finlay hurt his shoulder on his first shift and Mahlon Head was ejected for a hit from behind.
"It's a hard roadtrip up to Prince George and we only had seven forwards but we fought hard to the end and today we played great, I'm really proud of my team," said Jost, who now has 39 goals and 80 points in 34 games. "I'm not really thinking about the goals right now, it's a team sport and I have to attribute my success to my teammates."
The 15-year-old native of Leduc, Alta., was a first-round, seventh-overall pick of the Everett Silvertips in the 2013 bantam draft. He played bantam hockey in Kelowna with the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy and joined the Rockets this season. Jost has yet to decide which junior route he'll take next season, either in the WHL with Everett or in the BCHL with the Penticton Vees.
"As everyone saw this weekend, he's a guy who doesn't quit, he works his hardest all the time," said Rockets head coach Mack O'Rourke. "He wins puck battles and can shoot the puck like a pro already, but it's his never-quit attitude, and when you combine that with his skill set that's why he's so successful."
Outshot 12-3 and trailing 2-1 after one period, the Cats took advantage of a power play to even it up. Just 29 seconds into the second, with Jost in the penalty box, Cougars winger Jesse Roach one-timed a behind-the net pass into the net. Later in the period Roach returned the favour to linemate Steven Jandric, getting to loose puck behind to feed Jandric in front. Jost tied it again with a power-play goal. Roach restored the lead on a Cougars' power play 1:34 into the third. That lasted until Jost scored on a wrapraround third attempt at 7:26.
"It was just a game of bounces, they're a very good quality team and their lineup was a little depleted but that just gave some of their guys more icetime," said Cougars head coach Bryan Maclean. "We were right there with them the whole way, we were physical and I like the guts we had here today after getting humbled [Saturday] night."
Lane Delfs made 29 saves in the Cougar nets, while Brendan Barry blocked 15. Delfs came in to relieve Jeremy Matte at the midway mark of the second period of Saturday's game and allowed six goals on 16 shots.
"We played a lot more physical today and went harder to the net than we did on [Saturday]," said Roach. "We definitely used it as motivation that they didn't have many bodies and would get tired on the big ice. It's a little bit tiring but you get used to it. There's a lot more room out there."
The Cougars (17-19-2) could have used a win to move up on the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs and Greater Vancouver Canadians, who each were two points ahead of the Cougars heading into Sunday's games. The Cats are down to just two games left, both this weekend when they host the Giants.
That will give them more time get used to their big ice surface. The Olympic-sized rink is 200-feet long and 100-feet wide, 15 feet wider than the NHL-sized rinks they are used to. Good teams like the Rockets and Giants utilize their speed on the forecheck and rely on passing skills to control the play. On the larger ice surface that becomes even more critical.
"It's hard playing on that ice, you get tired really quite quickly," said Jandric. "You just have to let the puck do the work and hopefully you can score after that.
"I thought it was more tiring, going end to end," added Cougars forward Mitch Williams. "You just play shorter shifts."
n The Cougars' inaugural weekend in their new home was combined with the fifth annual Jameson Jones Cancer Fundraiser . Over two days, $3,000 and 60,000 travel points were collected to help the family of Olivia Langdon-Davies, a Grade 7 at St. Mary's elementary school who is now in Vancouver undergoing cancer treatments.
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