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PHOTOS: Cariboo Cougars shut out in front of more than 100 spectators at 2020 Winter Classic

Vancouver North West Hawks stymie hosts, grateful for opportunity of a lifetime

The Cariboo Cougars may have hosted the spectacle, but it was the opposing netminder that stole the show.

Jayden Shull stopped every shot he faced Saturday night (Jan. 18) in Fort St. James, 30 to 40 of them from what he estimates as there was no record of how many were taken, but regardless, a blazing shut out performance helped his Vancouver North West Hawks steal two points in a 2-0 final.

Ernie Sam Memorial Arena saw more than 100 local residents, parents and hockey fans alike return for the second installment of the new outdoor tradition.

Shull said the pre-game skate earlier that morning helped him better prepare for the conditions while standing between the pipes.

“I had hand-warmers in my skates, hand-warmers in my glove and blocker, I got extra gloves just in case I did play today, so I just made sure I was not cold because going in cold sucks when you’re playing in this kind of weather,” the 17-year-old explained, adding muscle memory was also key to playing his best in the outdoor setting.

“Especially with the snow coming at your face, when you’re trying to see through the screens and there’s snow coming in your eyes, so there was lots of traffic, lots of extra stuff, and when you breathe out, the fog kind of gets in the way, but it was pretty fun and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t the first time Shull played a game outside, but you have to go back nearly a decade to date it.

“I did once in Atom at the Apex Tournament up in the Penticton area,” said the West Vancouver product.

“It was a lot of fun, but the atmosphere was way better out here and it was a way better experience.”

After a scoreless first period, the Hawks broke the tie to go 1-0 with over eight minutes left in the second.

A cross-checking penalty taken by Vanderhoof’s Ethan Floris cost the Cougars, allowing a power-play goal by Hayden Gelbard and the assist to John Babcock.

The lead remained the same through until the final 65 seconds in the contest when Vancouver’s Ben Julius Kotylak potted an empty-net goal unassisted shortly after Cariboo goaltender Kenny Gerow was pulled for the extra attacker.

The Hawks would be declared the first official winners of the BC Winter Classic, handing the Cougars a 2-0 loss, as Cariboo and the Vancouver North East Chiefs ended in a tie after 2019’s inaugural event due to deteriorating weather and ice conditions.

Both penalty kills were likely put to work more than what was expected; the Hawks extinguished all 11 while Cariboo went 90 per cent (9/10) when short a man.

Shull was player of the game for North West, while John Herrington was awarded the Major Midget Cats’ respective honour.

“I think the ice is really nice, actually,” said Herrington, who came back to Fort St. James in 2020 as team captain and appreciated the improvements made to Ernie Sam Arena that allowed his teammates to play a legitimate 60-minute game.

“Like, last year, we had some problems at the end, but we didn’t have that problem this year. I’ve skated on worse ice surfaces in buildings, so I think they did a really good job this year. […] I don’t know how long they’re planning on doing this for, but they’re going to learn a little bit every year, and it’s just going to get better and better.”

On the other side, Hawks’ captain Owen Howard was happy to be able to get a skate the morning of the BC Winter Classic, adding the experience provided a major wake-cup call.

“I think that [pre-game skate] was very helpful. Everyone knew what to wear tonight, got used to the rink, and it was very good for us.”

A noticeable trait of the outdoor rink was its size, especially for major midget hockey teams as BC’s league normally plays on North American or Olympic-standard arenas.

This made one part of Shull’s game in net a challenge, realizing he had to adjust his game plan as play progressed.

“When they were rimming the puck and stuff, I couldn’t really stop it behind the net, which I feel bad about because I hate leaving my d-men out to dry like that. I always love stopping the puck for them and stuff like that, but it was more communication out there because there was less time for my guys to react. So, I had to talk way more and just try to help them out.”

The Hawks’ win keeps them in second place in the provincial standings with a record of 21-7-0-1, while the Cougars drop to 17-8-1-1, but remain in fifth with two games at hand and 10 points behind first.

Cariboo will try to split the weekend doubleheader in Fort St. James when they face North West a second time in under 17 hours and should they win, the season series would end in a 2-2 stalemate.

Puck-drop goes for 12:30 p.m. today (Jan. 19) from the Fort Forum Arena.

The Northern Capitals are getting their turn to play outside early this morning (9 a.m.) against the Greater Vancouver Comets.