It didn’t matter that it was the preseason, a win’s a win and Prince George Cougars goalie Ty Young was relishing the moment as his teammates rushed onto the ice to offer their congratulations.
It was the type of game goaltenders would rather forget – a back-and-forth 7-6 red-light special over the visiting Kamloops Blazers decided in a Saturday night shootout at CN Centre - but you can bet the just-turned 17-year-old Young will carry this one in his long-term memory banks.
It easily could have gone sour on the Coaldale, Alta., native, especially after the Blazers found a way to temporarily snatch victory out of the hands of the Cougars when Kamloops winger Fraser Minten tied it with a flick of his wrists with 30 ticks left in regulation time, filing away a perfect shot into the top corner on Young’s glove side.
There was nothing he could do about it. Or was there?
Five minutes of overtime didn’t settle it and the teams rounded up their shootout sharpshooters. Koehn Ziemmer, whose toe-drag magic gave the Cougars a brief 6-5 lead on a power play late in the third period, was the first on the list and was stuffed by goalie Jesse Makaj on a his deke attempt. Young flashed his trapper to catch Josh Pillar’s shot and Cougars centre Riley Heidt was next off the bench and he made it count, using a quick release on a low shot to fool Makaj. Young had one more stop to make and kicked out his leg to deny Connor Levis. Minten, the third Blazer shooter, fanned on his shot and it was game over.
“This was my first win in a Cougars’ jersey and it’s a great feeling,” said Young, picked by the Cougars in the eighth round of the 2019 WHL draft in 2019. “it’s very nervewracking coming into overtime and I just wanted to get the win. I just focused (in the shootout) and took deep breaths and waited them out.
“The team was scoring, which helped me out there,” he said. “I let in three goals there, one in the last 30 seconds, and I wish I had that one to not extend the game out. But my team had my back there and I was able to come out with the win, it was great.”
The bottom line for Young was three goals against in 34 minutes of playing time after he took over from Cougars starter Tyler Brennan. Combine that with Young’s 22-save effort, allowing just one goal in Friday’s 5-3 loss in Kamloops, and his solid netminding all through training camp last week and all of sudden he’s added a new wrinkle that’s created some intrigue as to what Cougar management will do to decide the futures of their three goalies. That includes 20-year-old incumbent Taylor Gauthier, a member of Canada’s world junior team last Christmas.
Young got his first taste of WHL life living with his teammates in the Kamloops pod last spring and when Brennen left to play for Canada’s U-18 team at the world championship in Texas, that opened the door for Young. He played three games as a 16-year-old, one against Kelowna and two against Victoria, and lost all three.
“Sixty days in the bubble made me a completely better goalie and showed me what I had to work towards,” said Young. “The better shots are what made me come to camp ready to go
“It was a big off-season for me, coming in and showing what I’m made of and showing how much work I could put in and how much I could improve,” said the six-foot-three, 190-pound Young. “I couldn’t ask for a better goalie pair to come up behind. Both are Team Canada guys and they’re amazing to watch. That’s why I work so hard, so I can get to their level someday.”
Young has been a pleasant surprise since camp began and is winning the confidence of the Cougar coaching staff.
“He’s a kid that’s going in there and proving himself and he’s going to be a real good goaltender in this league,” said Cougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. “Give the scouts credit there. You do the work and you’ve got to hit on some players in the later rounds to make your team really good.
“He’s come in and he’s a real fit kid and he’s big, which is really nice for a goalie, and he competes like crazy. He’s been impressive.”
Matthew Seminoff, whose 11 goals in the pod season tied for the Blazers’ lead last spring in their run to the BC Division pod title, collected three goals. His third of the night near the end of the period, a tap-in off a backboard carom on a Kamloops power play, evened the count at four apiece.
The Cougars were on the undisciplined side the night before in Kamloops and gave up three power-play goals which cost them the game but stuck to the rules a lot better in the rematch and gave the small gathering of about 962 a taste of what they can expect from a young talented bunch this season.
Fischer O’Brien, whose younger brother Brogan, had a standout career with the Cougars a few years ago, went to work on the penalty kill and stripped Pillar of the puck deep in Kamloops territory for a short-lived 4-3 lead that evaporated 50 seconds later with Seminoff’s hat-trick goal.
Heidt, the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft, had an eventful game. He scored the Cougars’ third goal on a nifty setup from Kyren Gronick just before the first intermission. Just a few minutes before that goal, he and teammate Keaton Dowhaniuk collided along the side boards and Heidt’s nose took the brunt of it and he leaked a trail of blood on the ice. He also left the ice hunched over in pain in the third period after getting tagged into the end boards by one of the Blazers but didn’t miss a shift.
“I think all of us forgot it was a preseason game, it was pretty physical and I got bashed up a couple times.” said Heidt.
Heidt played all 22 games in the spring and contributed two goals and six assists to the Cougar cause. Best of all, from a Cougar perspective, he returned to camp comfortable with his new teammates in their Prince George digs, having benefited greatly from that first season on the ice and the COVID-inspired rule concession that allowed him to play beyond the usual five-game limit for 15-year-olds in the league.
“I got so lucky there, no other 15-year-olds get that experience, no matter how good you are,” said Heidt. “The pandemic, as bad as it was, it couldn’t have helped out better just for myself. It allowed me to go out there and I can’t thank them enough for bringing me in.”
LOOSE PUCKS: Saturday’s game marked the return to Prince George of former Cougars head coach Mark Holick, now the Blazers’ associate coach under head coach Shaun Clouston. Holick coached the Cats for 3 ½ seasons from 2013-16 before moving on to Italy and three-year stint at Yale Hockey Academy as coach of he U-18 team… Hooker, Blake Eastman and rookie Ryker Singer also scored for the Cougars, who head out on the road this week to Maple Ridge, where they’ll face the Vancouver Giants on Friday, followed by a date with the Victoria Royals in Victoria on Saturday.