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Prince George Cougars’ Taylor Gauthier near-perfect in first East Division road win

Vladislav Mikhalchuk gets three points in Cats’ 4-1 beating of the Blades

There’s a reason why Taylor Gauthier is arguably the best player on the Prince George Cougars this season.

He knows how to stay sharp between the pipes and that confidence is transferred to his teammates on a nightly basis, regardless if it’s a win or a loss. 

Well, his 29-save performance under the Saturday SaskTel Centre lights aided the Cats’ to their first win on their six-game East Division swing, dulling the Saskatoon Blades by a score of 4-1.

This was the 23rd time the 18-year-old faced 30 shots or more on 32 starts this year, which included 13 of 14 in the third period and earning him the game’s first star.

His performance even caught the attention of Saskatoon Head Coach Mitch Love.

“He looked very comfortable and set in his net all night,” said the Quesnel native on Blades TV, who was an assistant coach on Team Canada’s gold-medal-winning World Junior team in the Czech Republic earlier this month.

“We talked about it this morning in our team meeting that we needed him to make him look through our screens and even though pucks were filtered to the net, we were finding a way to get out of the way. You can’t do that against Gauthier.”

With the win, the Cats are now 1-0-1-1 tallying four of six possible points through the prairies and 5-2-2-1 in their last 10 games.

Vladislav Mikhalchuk was also a factor in Prince George’s first win since Jan. 3 when they defeated Everett on home ice.

The Belarussian import recorded his fourth three-point Western Hockey League (WHL) game, his 27th career multi-point night, with a trio of assists against the Blades.

Two of which helped Captain Josh Maser score his team-leading 17th and 18th goals of the 2019-20 season.

Maser opened the scoring over four minutes into the second period while on a power-play after Saskatoon took a tripping call, this after the first 20 ended in goose eggs, getting help from his line of Mikhalchuk and Ethan Browne.

The board read 1-0 after the middle stanza, but then it changed to 1-1 nearly six minutes into the third when Tristen Robins found a lane past Gauthier, depriving him of a potential shutout.

From there, it was all Gauthier, allowing the Cougars offense to capitalize three times unanswered en route to the 4-1 victory.

Jonny Hooker lit his second lamp in a Prince George uniform at 7:19 of the period, the assists from Mikhalchuk and Tyson Upper, and Connor Bowie scored the insurance marker 2:02 later, his ninth of the year from Jack Sander.

Maser’s second of the game was an empty-net goal with 49 seconds left when the Blades pulled rookie netminder Koen MacInnes with 2:33 left in regulation for the extra attacker.

At the 40-game mark of the regular season, the Cougars’ overall record is now 11-22-3-4.

Defenceman Rhett Rhinehart was -2 against his former club, two days after being dealt to Saskatoon ahead of Friday’s (Jan. 10) WHL trade deadline.

Three more contests remain for Prince George on the extended road trip out east, heading to Manitoba for a pair of midweek match-ups.

The Cats will face former forward Jackson Leppard and the Winnipeg Ice Tuesday (Jan. 14) at 5:30 p.m. Pacific, then, in Brandon on Wednesday (Jan. 15) at 5 p.m. Pacific, they’ll take on the Wheat Kings and Reid Perepeluk, who was also traded away the same night as Rhinehart.