Nothing like the smell of victory to start a season.
The Prince George Cougars picked up the scent early and were unrelenting hosts in a 5-1 victory over the visiting Tri-City Americans Friday night in front of 2,497 paying customers at CN Centre.
Sixteen-year-old rookie Madden Mulawka, in his first WHL start in net for the Cougars, made 23 saves to earn his first career victory. The Cougars owned the puck most of the game and outshot the Americans 41-24.
The first goal of the Cougars’ season came from an unlikely source – 16-year-old rookie defenceman Ephram McNutt - just past the two-minute mark. McNutt, playing his first WHL game, joined the rush and took a backhand pass from Carter MacAdams to complete a 2-on-1 rush. Mulawka drew the second assists after making his second save of the game to spring MacAdams on his way.
A three-goal second period gave the Cougars a 4-0 cushion to take into the final 20 minutes.
MacAdams got into the scoring act in the second period with goals 18 seconds apart. He took a drop pass from Czechian import Ondrej Becher and let rip a shot from the top of the circle that caught the net just inside the near post. The Cougars gained the zone quickly in the enduing face-off and Caden Brown left the puck in the slot for MacAdams to fire in his second of the night past goalie Tomas Suchanek.
The Cougar crowd got its first look at Becher, an 18-year-old native of Czechia picked 15th overall in the CHL draft, and he did not disappoint in his WHL debut. He used his speed to get clear of his check deep in the Tri-City end and linemate Blake Eastman fed him a perfect pass he finished with a rooftop backhander into the net.
The Americans didn’t get a ton of chances on Mulawka but he made the saves he had to and looked sharp from the opening puck drop. He was called into service with Tyler Brennan and Ty Young, the two incumbent goalies, still away at their NHL camps and picked up where he left off after stopping 62 of 63 shots in a pair of exhibition wins last weekend over Kamloops. Tri-City finally broke through the armour of the Edmonton native six minutes into the third period, cashing in a 2-on-1 chance. He made the initial save on a close-in shot from Jake Sloan but kicked the puck out to defenceman Ian Ferguson in the deep slot and it ricocheted in off his shin.
The Americans continued with their late-game surge after their goal and Mulawka stood up to the test and came up with his best save of the night, shooting out his leg to take away a sure-goal from Ethan Ernst with nine minutes left on the clock.
Maintaining discipline was a problem for the Americans all game and the Cougars’ power play finally clicked with about seven minutes left. Koehn Ziemmer took a lose puck off a skate in front of the net and fired in a high wrister to cap the scoring on their ninth power-play opportunity.
LOOSE PUCKS: The Cougars and Americans meet again in a rematch Saturday (6 p.m. start)… Twenty-year-old winger Noah Boyko, in his first gam for the Cats since an off-season trade from Saskatoon, left the game early in the second period with an undetermined injury… The Cougars got a scare early in the second period when winger Fischer O’Brien’s lower leg was the point of contact with the leg of Tri-City defenceman Chase Freidt-Mohr as O’Brien carried the puck into the Americans zone. The Prince George winger left the ice in obvious pain but returned to play in the third period. Freidt-Mohr was handed a major penalty and game misconduct… Cougars play-by-play announcer Cole Waldie called his first WHL game Friday, teaming up with colour commentator Hartley Miller. Waldie, a Prince George native, came over to the Cougars after two seasons behind the mic for the BCHL Spruce Kings… The Cougars were sporting their newly-designed game red with black trim jerseys.
Friday WHL summary
Americans 1 at Cougars 5
1. Prince George, McNutt 1 (MacAdams, Mulawka) 2:11
Penalties – Belton TC (hooking) 4:49, Dragicevic TC (slashing) 11:24, Friedt-Mohr TC (tripping), Singer PG (tripping) 12:42, Arpin TC 15:04, Singer PG (charging) 17:26.
2. Prince George, MacAdams (Becher, Eastman) 5:51
3. Prince George, MacAdams 2 (Brown, NcNutt) 6:08
4. Prince George, Becher 1 (Eastman) Thornton) 12:34
Penalties – Keenan TC (closing hand on puck) 3:16, Friedt-Mohr TC (kneeing major, game misconduct), Kmec PG (roughing) 6:34, Singer PG (hooking) 13:37, Singer PG (goaltender interference) 16:04, Ferguson TC (hooking) 17:34.
5. Tri-City, Ferguson 1 (Sloan) 6:31
6. Prince George, Ziemmer 1 (Dowhaniak) 12:55 (pp)
Penalties – Serraglio TC (interference), Dragicevic TC (interference), Thornton PG (roughing) 0:40, Eastman PG (slashing) 2:04, Ferguson TC (charging) 2:44, Ferguson TC (tripping) 11:52, Dragicevic TC (roughing), Eastman PG (roughing) 17:32, Buczkowski PG (hooking) 18:31.
Shots on goal by
Tri-City 9 5 9 -23
Prince George 9 14 18 -41
Goal – Tri-City - Suchanek (L,0-1); Prince George, Mulawka (W,1-0).
Power play – TC: 0-5; PG: 1-9.
Referees – Brody McGrath, Taylor Buzminski; Linesmen – Tyler Garden, Anthony Maletta.
Attendance – 2,497.