Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Gauthier great in net, delivers Cougars to season's first victory

Late goal from Heidt sinks Royals; rematch Sunday afternoon at CN Centre
Cougars Riley Heidt vs. Victoria Oct. 16 2021
Cougars centre Riley Heidt fires at the Victoria Royals net during Saturday's WHL game at CN Centre. Heidt went on to score the gamewinner in a 3-1 victory.

A couple weeks ago when the Prince George Cougars started the season, Taylor Gauthier was wondering if his time as a Cougar was coming to an end.

As one of four 20-year-olds on the team in a league that only allows three, he had legitimate concerns he might be traded to another WHL team. As it turned out, that didn’t happen in advance of the Oct. 13 overager deadline. Defenceman Majid Kaddoura was the odd man out and he was sent Tuesday to Moose Jaw for draft pick, leaving Gauthier as the fifth-year incumbent in the Cougar nets.

Saturday, in his first home start of the season, Gauthier reminded a gathering of 1,828 fans at CN Centre why the Cougars have kept around for so long. He didn’t get tested a lot, facing just 23 shots, but he was superb when he had to be in a 3-1 win over the Victoria Royals, showing the form that 10 months ago earned him spot on Canada’s world junior team.

After sustained pressure in the Victoria end, Riley Heidt gave the Cougars the edge they needed to post their first win of the season when he fought through the crease and got to the rebound of Viliam Kmec’s point shot. Heidt’s gamewinner came with four minutes left and Gauthier had his final say in deciding the outcome with about a minute to play when stuck out his goal stick to rob a wide-open Bailey Peach on a shot from point-blank range.

Seconds later, Fischer O’Brien cleared the puck out of the zone with a pass attempt that ticked off a Royals’ skate and skipped the length of the ice into the empty net to seal the win.

“Going into the dressing room before the third (period) we knew we were in control of the game,” said Gauthier. “We have real good leadership on the team, not just with the 20-year-olds, but it goes all the way down the line, and all the boys played hard in the third there and we did the things we needed to win the game. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you win 10-1 or 2-1, a win’s a win.”

It was the first victory for the Cats (1-3-0-0) after three losses to start the season. The Royals’ record dipped to 1-5-0-0.

Both offences struggled to generate much excitement in a penalty-filled first period. The Royals had five power-play chances, compared to the Cougars’ four, and each team had brief two-man advantages but the shots at the end of the period pretty much told the tale, each team with just five. Royals centre Brayden Schuurman, the reigning WHL player of the week, came close to scoring not long into the game when his shot from just outside the crease clanged the post.

Tanner Scott took advantage of a malfunction at the junction when Cougars Bauer Dumanski and Blake Eastman collided at centre ice. Royals winger Carter Briltz took possession of the puck and fed it ahead for Tanner Scott on a 2-on-1 and he buried a hard shot into the top corner over Gauthier’s glove.

The goal came 6:20 into the second period and Cougars still hadn’t registered their first shot on goal in the period until Connor Bowie got close with a backhander goalie Tyler Palmer smothered just past the midway mark. That seemed to spur the Cougars into action and captain Jonny Hooker got the job done with a slapper from the left face-off circle he let go using Royals defenceman Kalem Parker as a screen and Palmer barely flinched as the shot got through on the short side with six minutes left in the period.

It was just what the doctor ordered to lift the Cougars out of the doldrums and they started to dictate the play and poured it on in the third period, outshooting Victoria 17-9.

“I didn’t think we had much energy in the first period, we talked a lot and practiced a lot playing defence and I think that kind of hurt us, we were standing around a little too much and looking round,” said Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb.

“Then we mixed things up and the guys stuck with it. It was a big win for us. It was a hard game, there were so may penalties, there was 5-on-3s and the rhythm for both teams is out the door. You have to no rhythm and you have stick with it. To me, those are tough games and the team that usually sticks with it the longest wins. Gauthier was great, he closed the door for us and got the win.”

Kmec had two assists for his first multi-point game since coming to the Cougars over the summer from Slovakia. The 17-year-old has been a standout since he arrived and he continues to impress his coach.

“He can make plays, he made them all training camp,” said Lamb. “He’s finding his way in this league right now as a young defenceman and he’s learning. There were certain shifts for a lot of the guys where you could see that inexperience and we need a few more games like that just to keep going.”

Three goalies remain with the Cougars, with Tyler Brennan and Ty Young also on the roster. There’s no guarantee Gauthier won’t get moved before the Jan. 10 trade deadline, but he’s put those worries into the back of his mind.

“There were definitely some tense moments the last couple weeks, not really knowing where the chips are going to fall and obviously I love the city of Prince George,” he said. “It’s basically been my home for the last five years and it would have been hard to leave this place and I’m really happy I was able to stay.

“It’s been a goal of mine with this team since I’ve been here, we haven’t seen the playoffs since I was here in (2016), so I want to win here before anywhere else. This team and this city has given me so many opportunities and so many chances to help me grow as an individual and as a player as well. I want to be able to help this team maybe go for a run this year. We’re a really talented team and once we get going here, who knows what will happen.”

LOOSE PUCKS: Caden Fanshaw, a Prince George native who used to volunteer as the Cougars stick boy, earned a spot on the on-ice officiating crew for his first WHL game Saturday as a linesman… This was the start of an unprecedented six-game regular season mini-series between the two teams. Following the rematch Sunday at 2 p.m. at CN Centre, the teams will make their way to Victoria to play next Friday and Saturday, then will return to Prince George for games Tuesday, Oct. 26 and Wednesday, Oct. 27. The pandemic, which has kept the international land border closed, forced the WHL to revamp its schedule to account for the fact the B.C. Division and U.S. Division teams are unable to play each other in their original Western Conference matchups until mid-November at the earliest… That means the Cougars and Royals, separated by 780 highway kilometres, will play each other 14 times this season…During the second intermission, the Cougars Alumni Association presented a cheque for $63,285 to the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation, the proceeds of the Cougars Alumni Charity Golf Tournament held in July at Prince George Golf and Curling Club.


Saturday WHL summary

Royals 1 at Cougars 3

First Period

No scoring

Penalties – Spizawka Vic (hooking) 0:52, Palmer Vic (tripping, served by Scott) 2:23, Brown PG (high-sticking) 5:36, Samson PG (high-sticking) 5:56, Laroque Vic (slashing) 10:40, Armstrong PG (interference) 12:21, Samson PG (delay of game) 13:32, Eastman PG (tripping) 16:38, Vic bench (too many men, served by Zborovskiy) 18:23.

Second Period

1. Victoria, Scott 1 (Briltz) 6:20

2. Prince George, Hooker 4 (Ziemmer, Kmec) 14:09

Penalties – Eastman PG (kneeing) 2:41, Newman Vic (slashing) 3:04, Bowie PG (high-sticking) 6:42.

Third Period

3. Prince George, Heidt 2 (Kmec, Thornton) 15:52

4. Prince George, O’Brien 1 (Thornton) 19:02 (en)

Penalties – None.

Shots on goal by

Victoria 5             9             9             -23

Prince George    5             10           17           -32

Goal – Victoria, Palmer (L,1-3); Prince George, Gauthier (W,1-1).

Referees – Taylor Burzminski, Kyle Kowalski; Linesmen – Caden Fanshaw, Scott Fulmer.

Power plays – Vic: 0-7; PG : 0-5.

Attendance – 1,828.