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Prince George Cougars tie the knot on weekend split with big win over Kamloops

Vegas Night crowd helps lift Cats to second win in three games
Cougars-Blazers-Upper 2020 home
Tyson Upper (#9) scores a breakaway goal against the Kamloops Blazers at the CN Centre (via Prince George Cougars)

A ceremonious night ended in victory for the Prince George Cougars.

The Cats hit the jackpot on offense at the CN Centre Saturday (Jan. 25) and played smart hands around the boards against Kamloops, the top-seeded team in the B.C. Division and closest rival.

The 3-1 Vegas Night victory was a result of another stellar performance by goaltender Taylor Gauthier, turning away 37 of 38 shots including a game-high 16 in the first period, combining for 77 saves on 81 attempts from the Blazers.

It’s also Prince George’s second win in three games and improves their record to 13-25-3-4.

As Gauthier shined brightly, recently acquired forward Jonny Hooker made a statement in his first home game as a Cougar by scoring the opening goal of Saturday’s contest nearly four minutes into the middle period.

“It was pretty special getting that first goal here and I didn’t even know what to do, to be honest, because the lights went out and that’s different for me,” said Hooker in a post-game interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters, adding he hopes to bring more prime scoring opportunities to his new club.

“My shot is probably my greatest attribute, so I just got to get lots of pucks on net and hopefully find the back of the net if I can get those shots.”

Hooker was traded to the Cougars from the Brandon Wheat Kings earlier this month and has since provided three goals on nine shots for Prince George and maintains a +1 rating.

The 18-year-old Winnipeg product says there’s ‘lots of young potential’ among his new organization.

“From the start of the line-up to the end of the line-up, I think we can make a playoff push here. It’s very important that we stick together and work hard every day because it’s going to be grind going to the end, but that’s the fun part about hockey. It’s not easy, it’s hard, and that’s what makes it so great.”

Ryan Schoettler assisted on Hooker’s 11th of the 2019-20 campaign, but Kamloops made it a 1-1 score before the second intermission.

Tyson Upper came clutch 96 seconds into the final frame to pull the Cougars ahead 2-1.

The 18-year-old went charging up ice on a breakaway to beat Blazers netminder Rayce Ramsay for his sixth of the year after taking a pass up ice from Ethan Browne.

Gauthier stood on his head for the rest of the third period, stopping all 13 shots from Kamloops.

Josh Maser potted the insurance marker on an empty net when Ramsay was pulled in the final minute of regulation for the extra attacker.

The captain’s 19th goal of the year sealed the weekend split and brings the Cats’ to a 3-2 season series lead over the second-best team in the WHL Western Conference.

“We just got to get more pucks to the net,” said Hooker when asked how his new team hopes to earn a playoff spot with the 23 games left on the schedule, only mustering 16 shots last night.

“We didn’t have a ton of shots tonight and we need to not pass up any shots. There’s a couple of times when we’re trying to make the pretty plays, but going into the end of the season and even in the playoffs, the pretty plays, lots of the time, aren’t open. The teams that do make the hard, strong plays to the net are the teams that usually come out on top.”

Prince George’s victory kicked off the reception party for Amanda Chandler and Chris Holmes’ first-intermission wedding ceremony, which was met with a goal horn and cheers among the more than 3,000 friends, family and fans in attendance.

It was the third-largest crowd this season, nearly 770 people behind the team’s Nov. 23, 2019 tilt against Kamloops, which ended a 5-3 win for the Cougars.

The Tri-City Americans roll into B.C.’s northern capital next weekend, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, with a 7 p.m. puck-drop both nights at the CN Centre.