Cariboo Cats flex their muscles

The Cariboo Cougars filled the net of the Greater Vancouver Canadians.
In a two-game weekend set in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League, the Cougars outscored the Canadians 20-1. On Olympic-sized ice at Kin 1, the Cats freewheeled to a 12-1 victory on Sunday, after an 8-0 win on Saturday.
With the one-sided decisions against the last-place Canadians, the Cougars find themselves on a four-game winning streak. The recent success – including 5-3 and 7-0 wins on Feb. 1-2 versus also-weak South Island – comes on the heels of a disappointing January. In the first month of 2020, the Cats posted a 1-5 record against some of the better teams in the league, namely the Okanagan Rockets, Vancouver Northwest Hawks and Vancouver Northeast Chiefs.
Looking at the last 10 games, Cariboo team captain John Herrington is keeping things in perspective.
“We’ve taken advantage over the weaker teams in the league but we’ve been dropping games to teams that are higher in the standings now so I think as we get closer to playoffs and we keep on winning, then when we get back to playing those teams we’ll be ready for them,” said Herrington, whose club has scored 32 goals in the past four outings.
The Cougars, who now hold a 22-10-1-1 record, have six regular-season games left to play, all of them at home. They’ll meet the 10th-place Kootenay Ice next weekend, will skate against the second-place Fraser Valley Thunderbirds on Feb. 22-23 and will close out their 40-game schedule with a doubleheader against the eighth-place North Island Silvertips on Feb. 29 and March 1.
With playoffs inching closer, Cariboo head coach Tyler Brough was happy with his team’s Saturday and Sunday work ethic.
“We’re going to take a lot of confidence out of it,” Brough said of the weekend results against the Canadians (7-28-0-1). “I actually like the way we played. I thought we played a full 60 minutes with the way the score was. We kept to it, we were tenacious on pucks, our second and third efforts were there and it showed in the puck possession, it showed the dominance on the scoreboard.
“It’s a shot in the arm for our guys – we need it,” Brough continued. “We’ve been struggling to get results. We’ve had some good efforts, some not-so-good efforts. We knew what the (Canadians) were, we knew what the standings were coming in. I didn’t want to give them a chance to be in this weekend, and the boys didn’t let them. It was a great effort by the guys.”
In Sunday’s game, the Cougars led 4-1 after the first period and 8-1 after the second. By the end of the contest, the shot-count favoured the Cats 48-15.
With 12 goals scored, several Cariboo players had multi-point performances. Brennan Bott fired three goals and added an assist, Carter Yarish scored twice and had one helper, and Alex Ochitwa was all over the ice with one goal and five assists. Other Cariboo marksmen were Kellan Brienen (2), Jaydon Merritt, Herrington (who also had three assists) and defencemen Ethan Floris and Wyatt Millner. Blueliner Mathew Magrath finished the contest with three assists.
There were also some ‘firsts’ in the game. Millner’s goal was his first of the season, while affiliated goaltender Jackson Powers earned his first win at the major midget level. He also picked up an assist on Brienen’s second goal and stopped Connor Muggli Manson on a penalty shot late in the third period.
“He’s going to have a lot of stories to tell tonight,” a smiling Brough said of Powers, who normally plays for the North Central midget double-A Bobcats.
Bott’s hat trick was also his first this season.
“It’s nice,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without my linemates, Herrington and Ochitwa. “Things were just working. We’ve been playing together for basically the whole year – things were clicking and we all had a big game.”
In Saturday’s victory, the Cougars got a two-goal performance from forward Fischer O’Brien. Their other six goals came off the sticks of six different shooters -- Brienen, Ochitwa, Bott, Herrington, Hunter Brown and Nico Myatovic. Meanwhile, goaltender Kenny Gerow got his second consecutive shutout.
Even with their current win streak, the Cougars still find themselves in fifth place, tied in points with the fourth-place Chiefs. The Chiefs, however, have played two fewer games. With that in mind, the Cats are intent on winning all of their remaining games and moving up into fourth spot so they can have home-ice advantage in the first round of playoffs.
“We need to win out so we get a higher ranking going into playoffs,” Bott said. “Then in playoffs, hopefully we can win another championship.”
Next weekend’s game times against Kootenay are 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. Both games will be played at Kin 1.
• Cariboo goaltender Jordan Fairlie, who has been sidelined for four weeks with a lower-body injury, is expected to be back on the ice this week but likely won’t be in the lineup for the games against the Ice.

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