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Portland strikes it rich with four-point weekend in CN Centre doubleheader

Slumping Cougars suffer seventh-straight home-ice defeat, have lost 13 of their last 15 games
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Riley Heidt was a factor in all of three goals for the Prince George Cougars Saturday but the Portland Winterhawks still skated away with a 5-3 win.

It was a much better effort from the Prince George Cougars than the previous night, but their performance in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Portland Winterhawks at CN Centre was still woefully inadequate for a team that’s hoping to make the WHL playoffs for the first time in five years.

On a night when one lucky fan left the building with $93,650 in 50-50 draw winnings, the slumping Cougars had no such good fortune. They took their lumps and suffered their seventh straight loss on home ice at the hands of the nationally-ranked Winterhawks

Portland centre Gabe Klassen hit the jackpot in his two-game visit to Prince George. After a three-goal game in Friday’s 7-2 pasting of the Cougars, Klassen scored to more in the rematch for a five-goal weekend.

The goals came fast and frequently to start the third period. Just 17 seconds in, Tyson Kozak got in behind the Cougars defence to deflect a goalmouth pass from Clay Hanus in behind goalie Tyler Brennan or a 4-1 Portland lead.

Back-to-back goals from Riley Heidt made it interesting for Cougar fans. With the Cougars on the power play, Koehn Ziemmer’s pass from below the goal line went off a Winterhawk, and Heidt was there in front of the net to blast the puck in.  Just 80 seconds, later the 16-year-old ripped a sharp-angle shot from the left side that slipped low just inside the post behind Dante Giannuzzi, who drew the start in net over former Cougar Taylor Gauthier.

Just when the fans were starting to get excited about a potential comeback, Stefan finished off another odd-man rush when he batted in a pass from Jadon Dureau to complete the scoring.

Portland improved its their-place Western Conference record to 33-13-3-2. The Cougars’ record dropped to 19-29-2-1 and they remain seventh in the Western Conference, six points ahead of the eighth-place Victoria Royals. The Cougars haven’t celebrated a home ice win since Jan. 18, when they beat the Royals 5-3. The Cats have dropped 13 of ther last 15 games.

Portland won all four games in the season series with Prince George.

The Cougars got caught puck-watching on the third Winterhawk goal, seven minutes into the second period.  Klassen skated in undetected by veteran Cougar centre Connor Bowie, who put on the brakes and stopped in the high slot just as Klassen took a back-door feed from James Stefan.

If there was anyone the Cougars should have been watching like a hawk it was Klassen, fresh from his hat trick Friday. He opened up a 2-0 lead when left unchecked as the trailer on a 3-on-2 rush and was able to pot the rebound.

Klassen’s 26th goal of the season to make it 3-1 came only a couple minutes after Hudson Thornton fooled Giannuzzi with a shot from the point – the 12th of the season for the defenceman Thornton.  

Stefan connected for the opening goal on a Portland power play 14 minutes in.  

LOOSE PUCKS: Goalie Gauthier lined up at centre ice to take his first WHL face-off – a ceremonial draw against Cougar captain Jonny Hooker, with two-time Olympic bronze medalist Meryeta O’Dine handling the puck drop… The Cougars are now halfway through an eight-game homestand that will resume next weekend when the Cats host the Spokane Chiefs in a doubleheader Friday and Saturday. The crowd count hit 2,583 Saturday, a substantial improvement over Friday’s sparsely-attended game that drew just 1,748 to the rink… The Cougars 50/50 Society draw reached a record-breaking $187,300 and the $93,650 jackpot was claimed at the rink by Richard Sitoski. All proceeds from the draw will go to the Prince George Community Foundation/Rotary Club project to build a new multi-use park in a yet-to-be determined central location in the city.

Saturday WHL summary

Winterhawks 5 at Cougars 3

First Period

1. Portland, Stefan 27 (O’Brien, Hanus) 14:23 (pp)

Penalties – Brinson PG (tripping) 14:00, Hanus Por (slashing) 18:11.

Second Period

2. Portland, Klassen 24 (Dureau, Smythe) 4:14

3. Prince George, Thornton 12 (Heidt, Samson) 5:48

4. Portland, Klassen 25 (Stefan) 7:15

Penalties – Fromm-Delorme Por (hooking) 9:37, Smythe Por (roughing) 16:48.

Third Period

5. Portland, Kozak 26 (Hanus) 0:17

6. Prince George, Heidt 14 (Ziemmer, Bowie) 1:20 (pp)

7. Prince George, Heidt 15 (Ziemmer) 2:40

8. Portland, Stefan 28 (Dureau) 3:19

Penalties – Dureau Por (hooking) 0:24, Hanus Por (cross-checking) 12:50.

Shots on goal by

Portland        12       14       10       -36

Prince George         8          12       12       -32

Goal – Portland, Giannuzzi (W,17-9-2-2); Prince George, Brennan (L,10-19-1-1).

Power plays – Por: 1-1; PG 1-5.

Attendance – 2,583.

Referees – Kyle Kowalski, Brian MacDonald; Linesmen – Cayden Fanshaw, Tyler Garden.