The Prince George Cougars made a valiant try to gain the upper hand on the Vancouver Giants in their season-opening game Friday at CN Centre.
Tyson Upper’s two-goal effort late in second period to tie the game gave the Cougars hope they might just have what it takes to knock off the defending Western Conference champions.
But the Giants, with 16 returning players from the team that came one overtime goal short of winning the Western Hockey League title last season, found a way to get the job done.
Justin Sourdif broke a 3-3 deadlock with the Cougars on the penalty kill early in the third period and that paved the way for a 5-3 victory. Sourdif took the puck from goalie Trent Miner and went coast-to-coast, catching the defence flatfooted as he ripped a high snapper in behind Taylor Gauthier.
The Giants put this one to bed in the late stages with an empty-netter from Jackson Shepard.
While the result was disappointing for the Cougars, the effort was certainly there and for the most part they matched the pace of their opponents. The finger of blame for the loss could be pointed at the Cats’ power play, which scored just once in seven two-minute opportunities.
Aside from their first crack at it in the first period the Giants penalty-killers effectively got the job done without having to lean too much on goalie Trent Miner, especially in the second period, when they were shorthanded for a total of eight minutes.
Lukas Svejkosky went post-and-in on a 2-on-1 to restore the Giants’ two–goal lead early in the period. That lasted until late in the second period when the 18-year-old Upper went to work. His first one, at 16:36, was one Miner probably would want back, a change-up from the top of the circle that slipped in under the arm of the 18-year-old Colorado Avalanche draft pick.
Then with just 11.7 seconds left in the period, after pointman Ryan Schoettler made a nimble move along the blueline to keep the puck in the zone, Upper deflected Schoettler’s shot high into the net to tie it up.
After Sourdif’s goal the Cougars had very few quality chances. The best came with about five minutes left, after Ethan Browne took the puck in deep through the slot. The puck came out to Cole Moberg and from 20 feet away he missed an open-look shot that sailed high over the net.
The Giants scored first, 4:48 in, and it was a strange one. Tristan Nielsen gained the puck standing on the goal line and fed it into the crease and went in off the skate of Gauthier. The Giants made it 2-0 late in the period on their first power play. Seth Bafaro took advantage of the screen in front of Gauthier and let go a low wrister that found the side of the net.
The Cougars got that one back less than a minute later. Moberg, who usually lines up on defence, joined the forwards on the left side of the Cougars’ new-look power play and just 11 seconds into the penalty he took a backhand feed from Josh Maser from behind the net and from close range whipped it past Miner.
LOOSE PUCKS: The same teams meet tonight (7 p.m.) at CN Centre… The crowd count on opening night was 2,857…Defenceman Jacob Gendron made his WHL debut lining up on the Giants blueline. The 17-year-old former major midget Cariboo Cougar took a regular shift as one of only five defencemen in the Giants’ lineup due to injuries and the three-player limit on 20-year-olds. Gendron’s father Shawn played two seasons as a forward with the Cougars their first two seasons in Prince George (1994-96)… The Winnipeg Ice, in their first game in Winnipeg since the franchise shifted from Cranbrook, beat Brandon 3-2 Friday… Giants colour commentator Bill Wilms was behind the mic for his 80th game at CN Centre. He started 20 years ago with the Seattle Thunderbirds and is now in his 18th season with the Giants, serving as former Cougar play-by-play broadcaster Dan O’Connor’s right-hand man.
Friday’s WHL summary
Giants 5 at Cougars 3
1. Vancouver, Nielsen 1 (Hardy, Bafaro) 4:48
2. Vancouver, Bafaro 1 (Plouffe, Hardy) 15:20 (pp)
3. Prince George, Moberg 1 (Maser, Schoettler) 16:11 (pp)
Penalties – Rhinehart PG (roughing) 14:09, Bulych Van (cross-checking) 15:57, Sourdif Van (charging) 17:41.
4. Vancouver, Svejkovsky, 10:50
5. Prince George, Upper 1 (Sander, Gauthier) 16:36
6. Prince George, Upper 2 (Schoettler) 19:49
Penalties – Bulych Van (slashing) 4:33, J.Shepard Van (cross-checking) 7:50, Sander PG (interference) 13:26, Plouffe Van (hooking) 14:26, Brown Van (slashing) 17:12.
7. Vancouver, Sourdif 1 (Miner) 4:56 (pp)
8. Vancouver, J.Shepard 1 (Roman) 18:53 (en)
Penalties – Leppard PG (cross-checking) 3:33, Sourdif Van (charging) 5:10.
Shots on goal by
Vancouver 13 6 10 -29
Prince George6 8 9 -23
Goal – Vancouver, Miner (W,1-0-0, 23-20); Prince George, Gauthier (L,0-1-0, 29-24).
Power plays – Van: 2-4; PG: 1-7.
Referees – Trevor Nolan, Mark Pierce; Linesmen – Brett Mackay, Anthony Malleta.
Attendance – 2,857.
Scratches – Vancouver: G David Tendeck (healthy), LW Sergei Alkimov (lower body), C Cole Shepard (lower body), LW Krz Plummer (upper body), LW Brayden Watts (healthy), D Bowen Byram (still with Colorado Avalanche); Prince George: D Cole Beamin (healthy), C Ilijah Colina (shoulder, week-to-week), RW Blake Eastman (healthy), D Joe Kennedy (healthy).