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Ravensbergen shuts out Rockets in series opener

Sellout CN Cenrtre crowd watches Cougars take 1-0 lead in WHL Western Conference semifinal series

Joshua Ravensbergen’s playoff beard isn’t getting any longer.

If he needs to shave at all that would be a big surprise to his Prince George Cougar teammates.

Just 17 years old, he’s earned his spot as the go-to goalie for the Cougars and on Friday night at CN Centre he showed everybody why he’s got that job.

The North Vancouver native stopped all 21 shots the Kelowna Rockets fired his way for his first WHL career playoff shutout and the Cougars rolled to a 4-0 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal.

“It was super fun, the team played great in front of me and this is a great first win with the series,” said Ravensbergen. “The second period was a fun one and I made some saves when I had to, just to help my team out when I could. I just try to go out and have fun and that’s when I’m at my best, when I’m not thinking. It was a lot of fun with all the fans.”

Ravensbergen had six shutouts during the season and that tied the WHL record for rookie goalies. He had a several chances to record the seventh but it didn’t happen. But there’s nothing as valuable to a goalie as a playoff shutout and he earned that gem with yet another calm performance that belies his tender age.

“It’s huge for us, we can rely on him and we know if we make a mistake he’ll have our back so hopefully he keeps riding that, and we’ll keep playing solid in front of him,” said Cats defenceman Chase Pauls.

“He still looks like a baby but he’s a helluva goalie and we’re glad he’s on our team, he’s keeping us in every game.”

The opening period was scrambly and neither team could sustain much offensive-zone pressure. The Cougars hadn’t played in nine days after their first-round sweep of the Spokane Chiefs, while the Rockets had five days between games since they eliminated the Wenatchee Wild in six games.

“It was a chess match at the start and we got better as the game went on,” said Cougars head coach and GM Mark Lamb. “In the third period they really started feeling it and it was an excellent game for us. We really locked it down in the third period.”

That feeling-out process started to go the Cougars’ way in the late stages of the opening period. The Cats had the seven unanswered shots on goal heading to the break and one of them found the back of the net.

Defenceman Ephram McNutt, who had all of three goals in 64 regular season games, picked an opportune time to jump into the play, with Ondrej Becher and Zac Funk leading rush. McNutt took a backhand feed from Funk that ticked off the leg of goalie Jari Kykkanen and chipped it high in behind the Kelowna goalie.

Cougars play-by-play announcer Cole Waldie interviewed McNutt in the pre-game show and asked the 18-old native of Truro, N.S., if it was going to be him or defenceman Bauer Dumanski who would break their playoff scoring drought first. McNutt waited until he was on the ice to make his final answer, scoring the game-winning goal.

“That was definitely a bit of inspiration, who would get it first,” said McNutt. “I said Dumer. I guess I didn’t have enough faith in myself. I just found a seam and jumped into a hole and luckily it popped off the pads and got to me. I was in the right place at the right time and kit was an easy one for me.”

Tij Iginla came within a goalpost of tying it, not long after the sellout crowd of 5,867 had a chance to calm down from Ephram’s goal, which sent the fans into a frenzy.

The Cougars’ penalty killers were called into action for the first time early in the second period. Ranked second in the WHL in the playoffs while shorthanded (93.8 per cent) heading into the game, the Cats went on the offensive when Terik Parascak pressured Caden Price at the blueline and took off on a breakaway, finishing with a low snapshot for his fifth goal in as many games in the playoffs.

“I think even the first goal was something we kind of giftwrapped for them, a poor change on our part and they came at us with a 4-on-2 rush - it’s playing right into their game and the shorthanded one definitely hurt,” said Rockets head coach Kris Mallette.

“We had some good zone time but I think Ravensbergen saw everything that came his way.”

The Cougars held a slight territorial edge and had their chances to pad the lead - Oren Shtrom put a shot off the post late in the second – but the Rockets also came close that period. Iginla’s toe-drag foray forced Ravensbergen to make a tough save nine minutes in. Max Graham had three Grade-As denied – including a 2-on-1 chance with Ethan Mittelsteadt coming out of the sinbin – but each time Ravensbergen was ready for it.

The Cougars broke it wide open in the third.

Cougars winger Koehn Ziemmer made up for a lazy holding penalty when he came out of the box and got the puck up to Parascak on the right wing boards. Parascak gained the zone and while falling fired off a rink-wide pass to Riley Heidt, who immediately dished to defenceman Keaton Dowhaniuk, who scored from the slot. It was his third of the playoffs – triple his season scoring output.

Two goals from defensive-minded defencemen - that was more than enough to impress the 20-year-old Pauls.

“Love to see that,” said Pauls. “That was Nutter’s first point, they were grilling him on the broadcast about not having any points and he scores tonight and shuts them up.

“Dow as well, those guys are playing well and it’s awesome for our group.”

Not long after Dowhaniuk struck, Borya Valis worked a 2-on-1 give-and-go with Funk, tapping in Funk’s return feed from just outside the crease for his third playoff goal to cap the scoring.

The Cougars set out to pressure the Rockets’ defence by putting pucks behind them and that strategy worked well. Kelowna’s defencemen were rarely afforded time to make crisp passes to exit their zone and their two potent scoring lines didn’t get the chances they needed to gain traction in the o-zone. When the Rockets did get to neutral ice the quick-footed Cougars were masterful at creating turnovers that stopped them dead in their tracks.

The crowd gave the Cats spine-tingling standing ovation sendoff as time ticked down in the final minute. The win was the 14th straight for Prince George, dating back to their regular season streak that now has them on a 22-0-1-1 roll.

Game 2 is set for Saturday at 6 p.m.

LOOSE PUCKS: With their assists on the series-opening goal, Becher extended his point streak to 24 games and Funk has now gone 19 consecutive games registering at least a point… The Portland Winterhawks beat the Everett Silvertips 8-2 in the opening game of the other Western Conference semifinal. The winners of each series will meet in the Western final that starts April 26… In the Eastern semifinal openers, the Saskatoon Blades scored a 4-1 home-ice win over the Red Deer Rebels, while the Swift Current Broncos also won at home, beating the Moose Jaw Warriors 7-2… The Rockets and Cougars last met in the 2011 playoffs and Kelowna swept them that year. The Cougars took it to five when they lost to Kelowna in 2000, the only other time the teams had a postseason encounter.

WHL playoffs

Western Conference quarterfinal

Prince George Cougars vs. Kelowna Rockets

(Cougars lead best-of-seven series 1-0)

Game 1

Friday summary

Rockets 0 at Cougars 4

1. Prince George, McNutt 1 (Funk, Becher) 18:34

Rockets at Cougars

First Period

Penalties – Calhoon Kel (fighting), Lajoie PG (fighting) 16:19.

Second Period

2. Prince George, Parascak 5, 3:24 (sh)

Penalties – Ziemmer PG (hooking) 2:42, Mittelsteadt Kel (interference) 6:32, Ziemmer PG (holding) 19:21.

Third Period

3. Prince George, Dowhaniuk 3 (Heidt, Parascak) 1:34

4. Prince George, Valis 3 (Funk, Pauls) 4:02

Penalty – Parascak PG (tripping) 13:40.

Shots on goal by

Kelowna            4            13          4            -21

Prince George  10          13          10          -33

Goal – Kelowna, Kykkanen (L4-3); Prince George, Ravensbergen (W,4-0).

Power plays – Kel: 0-3; PG: 0-1.

Attendance – 5,867.

Referees –Adam Bloski, Jarrod Lucoe; Linesmen – Michael McGowan, Anthony Maletta.

Scratches – Kelowna: D Landon Cowper (healthy), D Lachlan Staiforth (healthy), RW Luke Schetler (suspended); Prince George: D Drew Peterson (healthy), LW Arjun Bawa (healthy), D Carson Carels (healthy), RW Nicholas McLennan (healthy), LW Lee Shergot (healthy), RW Kayden Lemire (healthy), RW Patrick Sopiarz (healthy), G Brady Holtvogt (healthy).