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Storm on B.C. coast postpones Cougars-Royals game on Tuesday

Western Hockey League game will be moved to Tuesday, Jan. 18 at CN Centre; Royals have replacements ready for rematch

All ferry sailings were cancelled Monday because of massive storm that swept in from the Pacific and brought rain and intense wind gusts and because of that Victoria Royals were not able to leave Vancouver Island as planned for the trip to Prince George.

That has forced the Western Hockey League to postpone the Royals’ game against the Cougars at CN Centre scheduled for Tuesday. Instead, it will be moved to Tuesday, Jan. 18, the league announced Monday afternoon. But the Royals do intend to be in town for Wednesday’s game against the Cougars.

“We were just happy we got home, I think everyone knew it was coming,” said Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “The ferry ride (on Sunday) was pretty rough, and we were lucky to get out.”

The team played each other twice over the weekend in Victoria and the Cougars won both games, 5-1 on Friday and 4-1 Saturday, continuing a pattern the Cats established on home ice against the Royals when they beat them twice, Oct. 16 and 17. In those four games against an injury-depleted Royals team, the Cougars outscored Victoria a combined 16-5. Their current four-game win streak has helped erase memories of an 0-3 start.

“We’re just chipping away at it, we’ve got a lot of good things going and that’s how you win hockey games,” said Lamb. “Our depth has really showed up, we have a lot of guys who are doing what they’re supposed to do, and these games are hard. There are no easy games in this league and we’re starting to learn.”

The Cougars’ penalty-killers have been extremely efficient in the four games against Victoria, holding the Royals to just one power-play goal in 25 opportunities. That’s moved Prince George into eighth place in the penalty-killing department. Through seven games they’ve allowed six goals in 38 shorthanded situations for an 84.2 per cent efficiency rating. They played shorthanded just three times in their most recent game Saturday.

“You want to be disciplined in every game and we have reined it in,” said Lamb. “That (Oct. 16-17) weekend here it got right out of control. There was stick penalties, four-minute penalties, 5-on-3 penalties and the good news is our penalty killing has done a heck of a job. It’s improving and good thing it is, or we’d be in trouble.”

The Royals also visit Kamloops on Friday and Kelowna on Saturday before returning to Victoria. The Cougars will host the B.C. Division-leading Kamloops Blazers on Saturday at CN Centre. Prince George opened the season at home with a 5-4 loss to Kamloops and they were hammered 8-3 in the rematch in Kamloops, Oct. 9.

“We know what we’re up against there and they’re an even better team than when we played them,” said Lamb, whose team will have to deal with 20-year-old defenceman Quinn Schmiemann, who returned to Kamloops two weekends ago after he was released from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

“He was a top D in the league last year, he’s an excellent player.”

The Cougars and Royals are heading into the tail end of an unprecedented regular-season series against each other, prompted by a September change in scheduling due to the pandemic, which required all 22 WHL teams to play the first six weeks of their season against only divisional opponents.

The Cougars (4-3-0-0, second in B,C. Division) have won all four meetings with the Royals over the past two weeks and head into Wednesday’s game on a four-game win streak. Victoria (1-8-0-0, fifth in B.C. Division) has lost seven straight games.

Goalies Taylor Gauthier and Tyler Brennan are both coming off strong performances in Victoria. Gauthier stopped 28 of 29 shots Saturday, while Gauthier blocked 19 of 20 Royals’ shots on Friday.

“We have great goaltending, it’s no secret,” said Lamb. “They’re both really high-end goaltenders and we knew that was coming.”

Four Cougars made NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list with Brennan listed as a B prospect (potential second- or third-round draft pick), and centre Kyren Gronick, and defencemen Viliam Kmec and Keaton Dowhaniuk are considered C prospects (potential fourth-, fifth-, or sixth-round picks).

“That’s exciting for our team and another thing that’s exciting is we’re so young,” said Lamb. “I know we’re one of the youngest teams in all the CHL.”

Mitch Kohner (sprained ankle) did not skate Monday in practice and he’s doubtful for Wednesday’s game. Riley Heidt, who leads the Cougars with 10 points, took a solid punch on the nose in a spirited fight with Royals’ Luke Shipley at the end of Saturday’s game but the 16-year-old Heidt was no worse for wear and he’ll be in the lineup Wednesday. The Cougars have 23 players on the roster, with one extra forward, defenceman and goaltender.

The Royals, who started last week with eight injured players, will have four new veteran players with them for the game Wednesday, all acquired in trades for draft picks. Goalie Campbell Arnold, 19, the second star in Saturday’s game, came over in a deal from Spokane; defenceman Anson McMaster, 19, was acquired from Winnipeg; and forward Caleb Williams, 19, was dealt rom Medicine Hat. The Royals will also have defenceman Neithan Salame, 20, picked up two weeks ago from Brandon. He was injured and did not play in the games at CN Centre.