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Prince George's Myatovic through to Memorial Cup final

The Seattle Thunderbirds, who knocked out the Prince George Cougars in the second round of the WHL playoffs, will play the Quebec Remparts in Sunday's championship game.
Seattle Thunderbirds celebrate defeating the Peterborough Petes in semifinal CHL Memorial Cup hockey action in Kamloops, B.C., Friday, June 2, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Prince George's Niko Myatovic scored an empty-net goal Friday night to insure he and the Seattle Thunderbirds will be playing for the Memorial Cup Sunday.

Kyle Crnkovic scored his tournament-leading fifth goal and added an assist as the Thunderbirds topped the Peterborough Petes 4-1 in the tournament semifinal. It's the first time Seattle will play in the final in three tournament appearances.

Brad Lambert and Colton Dach had the other goals for Seattle, which got 27 saves from Thomas Milic. Myatovic scored an empty-netter with 2:09 remaining after taking a cross-ice pass from Reid Schaefer just outside of Peterborough's zone.

The Western Hockey League champion Thunderbirds, who knocked out the Prince George Cougars in the second round of the WHL playoffs, will next face the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Quebec Remparts on Sunday. Game time is 4 p.m. on TSN.

Quebec earned a final berth after opening the tournament with consecutive wins in the round-robin stage over the host Kamloops Blazers — who were eliminated by Peterborough in Thursday's tiebreaker — and Seattle. 

Brennan Othmann replied for Ontario Hockey League champion Peterborough. Michael Simpson had his second straight 43-save outing. 

Several Petes players remained on the ice following the loss, embracing one another and some taking a knee with their heads down.

"It's hard," Peterborough head coach Rob Wilson said. "There's a lot of emotion, they put so much into this.

"I don't think we had too much left in the tank and they were trying, they were battling. Othmann gets that goal and we still feel we're in it and 'Can we do it again?' type of thing but unfortunately it's one of those things. 

"It hurts now, the guys are hurting but they'll look back and be proud of their achievement."

After dropping their first two games — including a 6-3 loss to Seattle last Saturday — the Petes staved off elimination and forced the tiebreaker game with a 4-2 win over the Remparts on Tuesday. Peterborough scored four unanswered goals to defeat Kamloops 5-4 in overtime on Thursday to get into the semifinal game.

Othmann was emotional as he spoke to the closeness of the group.

"When you win a championship, it doesn't matter with what team, your bond builds more, " he said teary-eyed. "Played on two world junior teams and you're only on that team for a month and fortunate to have two gold medals (but) I still talk to all those guys.

"If you can imagine being with a team for a full year, winning a championship, just spending every day with those guys, it's special. We spend every single second together and that's why we won a (OHL) championship ... why we won is because of the brotherhood.

"That's what I'm gonna miss the most with this group."

Seattle, which outshot Peterborough 14-5 in a scoreless opening frame, missed on several scoring chances, as did the Petes with the few they had.

Simpson became an even brighter spot for much of the middle frame as Seattle continued to press.

After several missed chances, Lambert finally broke through for the Thunderbirds with 4:28 left in the second. He sent a backhand shot off a rebound that trickled through Simpson's legs for his first of the tournament.

Dach added to Seattle's lead 1:28 into the third period after a pass from Crnkovic.

Othmann put the Petes on the board just 1:13 later. Owen Beck sent the puck to Othmann with a turnaround pass and he beat Milic for his second.

Crnkovic — who had a hat trick in the teams' previous game — made it a two-goal lead at 9:33 after a scramble in front following a stop on a tipped shot.

Notes: Former women's national team members Manon Rheaume, Meghan Agosta and current team captain Marie-Philip Poulin were on hand for the ceremonial puck drop before the game.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press