Be happy for who you are and what you do.
That’s what pride means to Prince George Cougars forward Tyson Upper, who was the star of Friday night’s (Jan. 3) home-barn victory over the Everett Silvertips in his team’s first game of 2020.
The 18-year-old scored the opening goal in the 4-3 win and added two assists throughout the contest, his first set of points since Prince George’s last home game on Dec. 14, which resulted in a 4-2 rout of Victoria.
In an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters, Upper claims he’s been getting pucks to the net in the five games since, but lady luck had not otherwise been kind.
“It’s just about battling down low,” explains the Western Hockey League (WHL) sophomore.
“I’ve been playing well, I just haven’t been getting bounces all the time. So, I just stuck with my game and kept it going [...] If stuff doesn’t go right and we make mistakes, we just got to get back to our game, you know, make simple plays and keep playing how we’re playing.”
.@PGCougars have reigned victorious in 4 of their last 6 games, winning the first homer of 2020 with pride in a 4-3 final over @WHLsilvertips 🏒 The Cats’ 10th victory of the season is also their second straight in the comforts of the CN Centre | #CityOfPG @PGMatters pic.twitter.com/IOOuZyQN9i— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) January 4, 2020
He and his teammates showed their true colours in defeating the Silvertips in their second straight meeting of the season; the Cougars lead the season-series 2-0 with two more to go.
Friday was also the organization’s first-ever Pride Night with the Prince George Pride Society, celebrating diversity and inclusion within the city and its hockey community.
Upper believes his team has and can continue to be, a key community ally.
“We want to show pride on our team. We want to show pride with each other, stick up for each other, play for each other and same goes for being in the community too. We want to be one, we want to stay together. We’re all humans here, so we all want to be together as one.”
Prior to puck-drop, the Cougars invited several LGBTQ+ members and their families onto the ice and wave a giant rainbow flag, while players fashioned their sticks with rainbow tape.
The game remained scoreless until Upper’s 1-0 marker with two minutes left in the first period, assists from Nikita Krivokrasov and Ryan Schoettler.
In the next stanza, three goals were scored in a span of 90 seconds, two from Everett Silvertips’ captain Bryce Kindopp back-to-back, including one on a power-play, to give the visitors the 2-1 advantage.
The third came off the stick of Cats’ rookie defenceman Ethan Samson, his second of the year, taking passes from Craig Armstrong and Connor Bowie, before sniping the puck through traffic.
After the intermission, the 2-2 tie was broken 35 clicks into the third thanks to a beauty breakaway from Vladislav Mikhalchuk.
The Belarussian buried the biscuit after a couple of dekes to fool Silvertips netminder Braeden Holt; assists went to Upper and Jack Sander.
Everett managed to square the score once again, however, they took a roughing penalty at the midway mark of the frame and Prince George capitalized.
Schoettler slapped home the game-winning goal on a one-time shot from the blue-line for the 4-3 lead, and eventual final, with help from Upper and Cole Moberg.
Taylor Gauthier made 35 saves on 38 shots in the Cougars’ 10th victory of the season, his seventh as the starting goaltender, while Holt stopped 38 of 42 on the other side.
This is just the second time in the 2019-20 campaign when the Cougars have won a game and outshot their opponents the same night; the other contest was their first win of the year on Oct. 5 over Kelowna.
Prince George has proven they can compete against the top WHL clubs and they can match most offensive abilities with, including last night, 17 one-goal decisions.
When asked about 2020 expectations, Upper said the answer is simple.
“We want to make the playoffs,” he replied. “We’ve been playing well all year, but we’ve been losing one-goal games and haven’t been finishing them, so we just need to stick with the program. Mark [Lamb] is one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever had. He knows what he’s doing, so we all need to listen to him and if we buy in, we’ll be a great team in this league.”
The Cats have won four in their last six games, earning nine of a possible 12 points in that stint.
They go for the weekend sweep against Everett tonight (Jan. 4), 7 p.m. from the CN Centre.