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Kohner holds the high hand in Royal flush

American-born right winger makes triumphant return to CN Centre in Sunday win over Victoria
21 Cougars Craig Armstrong leads rush vs. Vic Oct. 17 2021
Cougars left winger Craig Armstrong leads a rush into the Victoria Royals' zone during their game Sunday at CN Centre. Armstrong scored two goals and had an assist in a 4-2 win. James Doyle photo

Mitch Kohner is just making up for lost time.

The author of the tying goal Sunday for the Prince George Cougars in their 4-2 win over the visiting Victoria Royals, Kohner’s all-out effort was on display when he set up Craig Armstrong’s gamewinner five minutes into the third period that gave the Cougars a two-game sweep of their WHL opponents.

Kohner accelerated into the corner with reckless abandon to win a chase for a loose puck and tried to hit linemate Koehn Ziemmer with a centring pass through the crease. Royals goalie Connor Martin attempted to poke the puck out of harm’s way with his stick but it went right to Craig Armstrong and he buried it into the net.

“The last time I played here was before COVID and I had a lot of energy and was ready to go and just wanted to be a big attribute and just work hard,” said Kohner, selected the game’s first star. “(Armstrong and Ziemmer) are awesome to play with, they’ve got good speed and know how to move the puck. I think we’re getting chemistry together and it’s going good.”

Armstrong put the game out of reach for the short-staffed Royals with his third point of the game, an empty-net goal with 20 ticks left, as the Cougars won back-to-back to begin an unprecedented six-game regular-season series with their B.C. Division rivals from Victoria.

For the 19-year-old Kohner, a native of Rosemount, Minn., it was a triumphant return in his first game on Prince George ice since March 2020. He was a healthy scratch for the season-opener against Kamloops and was forced to sit out Saturday’s game against the Royals while serving a one-game suspension after receiving a game misconduct penalty Oct. 9 in Kamloops.

Because of his American address and the closed border during the pandemic, Kohner was not allowed to join his Cougar teammates in the Kamloops-Kelowna bubbles last spring. He did get play six games in the spring on loan to the Spokane Chiefs so his season wasn’t a total loss, but he missed being a Cougar.

“It was definitely a hard year for me, personally, and I’m just so happy to be back here with my teammates and I love playing here,” said Kohner. “I believe in this group and I think this is a turning point in our season and I think we just have to build off these two wins and keep going.

“We definitely have to be a lot better. We have to do the system properly and we have to stay out of the box and play more disciplined.”

Considering how many penalties the Cougars took in the two weekend games (17) they had to consider themselves fortunate to escape with their first four points of the season. Prince George (2-3-0-0) jumped into fourth place in the division, two points ahead of Victoria (1-4-0-0), with games upcoming in Victoria Friday and Saturday.

Tyler Brennan was sharp in net for the Cats with 31 saves Sunday to earn his first win in three starts this season and he would have faced a lot more rubber if not for his teammates shot blocks which limited much of the damage from the Royals’ shooters, especially when they were on the power play. Riley Gannon’s tip-in 38 seconds into the second period was the only goal the Cougars’ penalty-killers allowed in the 10 times they played shorthanded. The Royals went 0-7 with the extra skater on Saturday.

“Our penalty-killers deserve a ton of credit and our goaltending - Brennan played good,” said Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “We have to clean up our discipline, it’s just too many penalties. It was similar to (Saturday) night, we got into penalty trouble and you lose momentum and the good news is our penalty-killers did a heck of a job.”

He also liked Kohner’s game.

“Mitch is an emotional, very good skater who can get in there with some good hustle,” said Lamb. “We needed that fire today and he brought it.”

The Royals and Cougars are at the young end of the collective age spectrum compared to the rest of the WHL and Royals head coach Dan Price is all in favour of the pandemic scheduling quirk that has the teams sharing the ice six times this month and 14 times in the season.

“I love to, I think it’s a great exercise for both teams to get that playoff mentality - play-travel, play-travel, recovery - it very much is a playoff schedule so I know we’re taking a lot from it and I’m sure Prince George is too,” said Price. “The first-year players get to understand what a playoff grind is like. It sure felt like that tonight.”

Injuries and illnesses have ravaged the Royals lately and they rolled into town with only five healthy defencemen. Forwards Evan Patrician and Reggie Neuman were injured Saturday and did not play Sunday and defenceman Ryan Spizawka was sick for Sunday’s game. They were also missing winger Tarun Fizer, who is still with the Colorado Avalanche. They tied to call up a couple affiliates to fill in for the 10 missing players but they were hurt as well.

“Hopefully by the weekend we’ll almost be full-strength,” said Price.

Sunday WHL summary

Royals 2 at Cougars 4

First Period

1. Prince George, Eastman 2 (Reichle) 14:57

Penalties – Bowie PG (double high-sticking) 0:30, Zborovskiy Vic (goaltender interference) 15:38.

Second Period

2. Victoria, Gannon 3 (Peach, Laroque) 0:38 (pp)

3. Victoria, Scott 2 (Gannon, Parker) 5:42

4. Prince George, Kohner 1 (Ziemmer, Armstrong) 13:00

Penalties – Brinson PG (cross-checking) 1:30, Hooker PG (hooking) 10:11, Shipley Vic (interference) 13:42, Vic bench (too many men, served by Zborovskiy) 19:26.

Third Period

5. Prince George, Armstrong 2 (Kohner, Ziemmer) 5:45

6. Prince George, Armstrong 3 (Heidt) 19:40

Penalties – Hooker PG (double high-sticking) 0:47, Kohner PG (slashing) 7:48, Dowhaniuk PG (interference) 14:00.

Shots on goal by

Victoria 10           11           12           -33

Prince George    10           7             5             -22

Goal – Victoria, Martin (L,0-1); Prince George, Brennan (W,1-2).

Power plays – Vic: 1-10; PG: 0-3.

Attendance – 1,624.

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