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Nguyen's hat trick no treat for Cougars

Sleepy start for Cats as they allow three goals in opening 10 minutes; Portland takes 2-1 series lead
Cougars winger Carlin Dezainde, left, looks for pass as he enters the Portland zone while being watched by Winterhawks defenceman Marek Alscher during Game 3 action Monday in Portland, Ore.. The 'Hawks won 4-1 to take a 2-1 series lead.

Portland Winterhawks right winger Marcus Nguyen pronounces his last name ‘new-wen.’

Well he certainly looked fresh on the ice Monday night in Portland when he unpacked the first playoff hat trick of his Western Hockey League career.

The 19-year-old Calgary native’s three-goal effort Monday was all the offence the Winterhawks needed to get the better of the Prince George Cougars. They beat the Cats 4-1 to take a 2-1 lead in the best- of-seven Western Conference final.

It was a nightmarish opening for the Cougars, who fell behind just 73 seconds in.

After turning the puck over to sniper James Stefan at the 13-second mark, forcing Josh Ravensbergen to make a tough save, the Cats fell victim to Detroit Red Wings first-rounder Nate Danielson, who carried the puck in deep and cut behind the net with a wraparound pass that found the stick of Nguyen, left unguarded in front, and he wristed in his second of the playoffs.

Six minutes later, Nguyen scored again, a onetimer from the high slot set up by Danielson.

And it got worse.

Just before the midway mark of the period the Winterhawks struck again. Defenceman Marek Alscher took the puck from Danielson and led the rush as he uncorked a shot from the face-off circle that sailed in over the shoulder of Ravensbergen.  

That was it for the 17-year-old Prince George goalie, named rookie of the week earlier in the day. He was replaced by Ty Young, after allowing three goals on 10 shots in 9:40 of mostly busy game action.

The Cougars settled down and held the ‘Hawks to just two shots on Young the rest of the period but there was no doubt plenty of soul-searching happening as they headed into the break.

“We’ve got to come out better than that, I mean you take away the first period it’s a 1-1 hockey game,” said Cougars assistant coach Carter Rigby. “The biggest thing is the emotion we brought in the second and third, I think we’ve got  to feed off that and that’s the way we have to play the rest of the series.”

It was the second-straight period in which they allowed three goals, a carryover from their 5-3 loss in Game 2 on Saturday. Danielson, acquired at the trade deadline from Brandon, also drew three assists in that game.

Prince George started the second period on the power play and Zac Funk came within a whisker of getting the Cats on the scoreboard 34 seconds in when Borya Valis fed him the puck from behind the net. Funk kicked it up to his stick and took his shot at the open net just as Jan Spunar flashed his glove to take away a sure-goal. It was without doubt one of the Czechian goalie’s best saves of the series.

Young was tested severely a few minutes later by centre Kyle Chyzowski, looking for his eighth goal in his last seven games. He let go a shot from just outside the crease and Young was there to make a kick-save and got some help from the post when Josh Zakreski corralled the rebound and his shot from a sharp angle grazed the iron.

Young was perfect in 14 shots coming off the bench heading into the third period. His teammates did a much better job protecting him than they did Ravensbergen, rarely allowing the ‘Hawks to get set up in the offensive end while playing 5-on-5.

The Cougars started the third period shorthanded with Ondrej Becher serving a roughing call after he  pushed Nguyen into the end boards two seconds before the buzzer. That came back to bite the Cats. On the power play, Nguyen completed his hat trick with his fourth goal in two games when he got his own rebound after Young made a leg stop and raised the puck in off the back bar.

Penalties hurt the Cougars and a majority of the seven Portland power plays came from undisciplined and avoidable actions committed by the visitors. The score would have been a lot uglier from a Cougar perspective, if Young hadn’t been as sharp as he was.

To their credit, after their horrible start, the Cougars got better as the game went on, but the ‘Hawks had it in lockdown mode and didn’t take chances while getting outshot 17-6 in the final period.

Carlin Dezainde fought Porland defenceman Josh Mori near the end of the second period and the Cougars stirred up the physicality whenever they had the chance the rest of the game. Facing that much adversity in front of an unwelcoming crowd of 5.608 onlookers, they needed something to take into Game 4 and they hope to use their small victories of aggression to inspire a much better effort right off the bat on Wednesday.

“That emotion out of the group there, we all love and encourage it,” said Rigby. “I think the boys are starting to learn what playoffs is all about. A couple series now and there hasn’t been too much grit and grind and we’ve got a group here that hasn’t had a deep run like this and it’s hard to go through. You’ve got to lean on each other and battle together as brothers and I really liked our response after the first period by our group.”

Valis spoiled Spunar’s shutout with wrister from the side with 4:04 left, leaving the Colorado native tied with Funk for the team lead in goals with seven. Spunar made 30 saves wnhile his team was outshot 31-30.

Right winger Terik Parascak, the Cougars’ rookie-of-the-year candidate, appeared to suffer an arm or shoulder injury in a collision with Nguyen near the Cougars’ bench at the end of the second period and was labouring on the bench while being attended to by athletic therapist Mitch Karapita as the teams headed off for the intermission. He did not return to the game but remained on the bench.

Rigby and Cougar fans remain hopeful the injury to the Cougars’ 42-goal, 105-point freshman  is not serious.

“I have no idea what’s up with (Parascak), but I know he was sitting there and smiling, so he should be alright,” said Rigby.

He’ll get a couple days off to heal before the series resumes for Game 4 on  Wednesday, with Game 5 to follow in Portland on Thursday.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Cougars will have to win at least one game in Portland to send the series back to Prince George, with Games 6 and 7, if needed, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at CN Centre… Portland defenceman Luca Cagnoni, who scored 18 goals and had 90 points in the season, returned after missing the first two games of the series with an unspecified injury. ‘Hawk winger Josh Davies remained sidelined for the second straight game… The Winterhawks on Monday added 20-year-old goalie Nick Avakyan to the active roster. The 20-year-old Avakyan, a former Tri-City American who played both regular-season games for the Winterhawks in Prince George in January, went 13-7-1-0 with the ‘Hawks until he was sent to the AJHL Whitecourt Wolverines… The Eastern Conference final resumes with Game 3 Tuesday night in Moose Jaw with the Warriors taking on the Saskatoon Blades. Each team has won in overtime.

WHL Western Conference final

Prince George Cougars vs. Portland Winterhawks

(Winterhawks lead best-of-seven series 2-1)

Game 3

Monday summary

Cougars 1 at Winterhawks 4

First Period

1. Portland, Nguyen 2 (Danielson ) 1:13

2. Portland, Nguyen 3 (Danielson, Jugnauth) 7:10 

3. Portland, Alscher 2 (Danielson) 9:40

Penalties – Shtrom PG (high-sticking) 9:42, Foster PG (boarding), Lajoie PG (roughing), Chyzowski Por (roughing) 14:47, Zakreski Por (high-sticking) 18:29.

Second Period

No scoring.

Penalties – Foster PG (roughing) 2:23, Dumanski PG (delay of game, puck over glass) 6:04, Sotheran Por (interference) 14:55, Nguyen Por (charging) 17:37, Dezainde PG (fighting), Mori Por (fighting) 19:20, Becher PG (roughing) 19:58.

Third Period

4. Portland, Nguyen 4 (O’Brien, Buttazzoni) 1:47 (pp)

5. Prince George, Valis 7 (Thornton, Kmec) 15:56

Penalties – Danis PG (delay of game, face-off violation) 9:45, Heidt PG (roughing), Funk PG (misconduct), Alscher Por (roughing), Buttazzoni Por (roughing) 15:20, Foster PG (tripping) 18:24, Danielson Por (slashing) 19:20.

Shots on goal by

Prince George  6            8            17          -31

Portland             12          12          6            -30

Goal – Prince George, Ravensbergen (L,8-2,10 shots-7 saves) and, at 9:40 of first, Young (20-19); Portland, Spunar (W,10-1, 31-30).

Power plays – PG: 0-5; Por: 1-7.

Referees  - Jeff Ingram, Bobby Jo Love; Linesmen – Mitchell Gibbs, Michael McGowan.

Attendance – 5,608.