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Funk's hat-trick performance a record-setter for Cougars

Prince George winger scores Nos. 54, 55 and 56 to break Quinn Hancock's single-season franchise goal record; Cats beat Kelowna 6-5 in shootout to clinch BC Division title
Cougars forward Ondrej Becher scores the only goal of the shootout in Saturday's 6-5 win over the Kelowna Rockets in Kelowna.

Zac Funk did what was needed to set the Prince George Cougars’ record for most goals in a single season and he put the exclamation mark on it with the three-goal effort Saturday that paved the way for  6-5 shootout win over the Kelowna Rockets.

Josh Ravensbergen pitched a shootout shutout, making consecutive saves off Rockets snipers Andrew Cristall, Tij Iginla and Gabriel Szturc, after Ondrej Becher’s backhander found the net behind Kelowna goalie Jari Kikkannen.

The win was the 40th of the season for the Cougars (40-15-0-3) and it left them 21 points ahead of the second-place Victoria Royals, who lost 5-2 Saturday to Portland, allowing Prince George to clinch its second-ever BC Division title.

Funk tied Quinn Hancock’s 1997-98 record of 54 goals with his first of the night on a Cougars’ power play that put his team ahead four minutes into the second period. The 20-year-old Cougar’s record-breaker came a couple minutes later when he scored on a rebound.

Funk completed the hat trick – his eighth three-goal game of the season – on a power-play setup from Teril Parascak and Riley Heidt  that came with 2:51 left in the third period.

But less than a minute later, Rockets’ rookie forward Hiroki Gojsic tied it with his second of the game to force overtime.

Both teams had breakaway chances to end it in OT - first Cristall, then Heidt – and each time they were denied by showstopping saves from the goalies.

Hudson Thornton got the Cougars’ offence started in the second period to erase the one-goal lead Iginla gave the home side in the first period.

Heidt gave the Cougars a 4-2 lead 13:54 into the second period – his 32nd goal and 100th point this season, in only 56 games. He finished with a goal and three assists and moved one point ahead of Moose Jaw's Jagger Firkus atop the WHL scoring race. 

Shots were 41-31 in favour of Prince George.

The Cougars went 3-for-5 on the power play and killed off all three shorthanded situations.

“I thought our first period was really good, we moved our feet, we had a good pace going into the game and we did a lot of good things,” said Cougars associate coach Jim Playfair. “We came back from being down a goal, our special teams were good and we found a way to stick with it and win and I think going into the playoffs that’s going to happen a lot.

“Not getting down on the group or getting away from our focus, but you have to win different ways to be a good playoff team – win on the road, come from behind, have good special teams, overcome adversity, all those things. And I think we did all that stuff tonight.”

The way the standings are shaping up, with Kelowna ranked seventh in the West, the high-octane Rockets could be that first-round opponent for the Cougars.

“When we look at the whole big  picture of what happened tonight, we could very well play these guys early in the playoffs and so it had to be part of our preparation gong into the end of the season was to win this building and not give up,” said Playfair.

“Maybe it takes us 60 or 65 minutes plus the shootout and that what it did tonight but we found a way to get everybody rolling and I thought our lines worked really well together. Maybe we didn’t respect their speed or their skill up front enough, but we certainly felt we could get on their defence and create some scoring chances. Scoring six goals on the road is awfully impressive.”

The Cougars remained first in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Portland Winterhawks, who have played two fewer games than Prince George.

Winning the BC Division title guarantees the Cougars will rank at least second among the eight playoff-bound Western teams and they will host the first two games of a best-of-seven opening round series.

The Cats are back home at CN Centre next weekend to face the Spokane Chiefs.