Kody McDonald, Cougar-killer.
In the last regular-season game of his junior career against his former team, the Prince George Cougars, in the place where it all began for him in the Western Hockey League five years ago, the 20-year-old Victoria Royals winger was pure poison.
McDonald scored two goals, including the tying goal with less than three minutes left in regulation time, then delivered the final heartbreaking stab, firing the shootout winner that sealed 5-4 victory over the Cougars Saturday night at CN Centre.
Just when it appeared the Cats might put to rest their five-week losing streak, McDonald came back to haunt them, extending their run of misery to 15 games.
Royals’ Igor Martynov and Cougars’ Vladislav Mikhalchuk, both natives of Belarus, scored earlier in the shootout before McDonald took his turn, and with the chance to win it he made his move on Taylor Gauthier, slowing down as he approached the net before depositing the puck in between the Cougar goalie’s legs.
It was McDonald’s first game against the Cougars since the Royals acquired him at the trade deadline from the league-leading Prince Albert Raiders.
“Coming in it would be my last time playing here and it was a good way to finish the game,” said McDonald, a native of Lethbridge picked by the Cougars 24th overall in the 2013 WHL bantam draft.
“I got that 10-minute misconduct in the second period, didn’t want that, and I guess I got a little rest and came out in the third and had a good period.”
Did he ever. His first goal of the game on a Royals’ power play to start the third period gave Victoria a 3-2 lead, but it didn’t last. Mikhalchuk put in a rebound and Tyson Upper scored again five minutes later to put the Cats ahead 4-3 with seven minutes left. But with time ticking down and less than three minutes to play, McDonald was left unguarded and blasted Martynov’s pass high into the net to tie the game 4-4.
“I found myself some empty space there and gave Igor the call and he made the heads-up play and put it right on my tape,” said McDonald, who admitted his time with the Cougars until he got traded to Prince Albert at the deadline last year helped him get the better of Gauthier in the shootout.
“I scored on him a couple times in practice doing that. I just slowed up so he backs into the net and go backhand-forehand and he leaves the five-hole a little bit open and I snuck it in there.”
This game had a bit of everything - plenty of offence, hard hits, a couple of fights, three lead changes, good goaltending at both ends and a wild overtime period dominated by the Royals. If not for Gauthier, who came up with showstopping saves in overtime on Tanner Sidaway and Martynov, who had got two good shots away, McDonald’s shootout clincher would not have been necessary.
Carson Miller scored the first two goals for Victoria. Josh Maser had a two-goal night for the Cougars, who lost 4-1 to Victoria Friday night.
The Royals (29-23-1-2) moved 10 points ahead of third-place Kelowna in the B.C. Division standings. Prince George (16-33-4-3) dropped 13 points behind Seattle for the second wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, with just 12 games left.
“I thought we played pretty decent throughout the game and got up in the third and kind of had everything going and the next thing you know, back-door (play) ends up in the back of our net,” said Cougars captain Josh Curtis, who fed Leppard the puck he cranked off the post that led to Upper’s goal.
“This is a tough one to swallow. We’re getting close, we’re really close, it’s coming and we just have to stick with it and try to stay as positive as we can. It was just a couple breakdowns that turned into goals and we can’t have those. But for the most part we played a pretty good game and there’s a lot we can take out of it.”
The Royals’ second goal, 2:13 into the second period, was a misadventure for Gauthier. Scott Walford shot from the point and the puck dropped at the goalie’s feet and was loose in the crease when D-Jay Jerome tried to bat it in. Instead, it trickled out to the corner and Miller scored with a backhander from a sharp angle.
Maser’s 22nd of the season on a 5-on-3 power play, tied it up 2-2. Cole Moberg made a held in a clearing attempt from goalie Griffen Outhouse and sent the puck into the corner for Ethan Browne, who aimed a shot-pass that hit Maser stick while he was standing in front of the net.
Just like they did Friday’s loss to the Royals, the Cougars had the balance of play in the opening period but were hurt by their lack of finish. The Cats have had trouble scoring all season as the lowest-scoring team in the league with just 118 goals in their first 55 games (a 2.1 average) and that’s been killing them in their losing streak.
Despite all that, the Cats grabbed an early lead. Jack Sander blocked a shot in the Cougars’ end and sprung Mikhalchuk. Maser then took off down the left side and ripped it for his 21st of the season.
The Cougars had a 6-0 shot advantage by the time Miller took advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone and wired a wicked shot bar-down in over Gauthier’s glove to tie the game, 7:16 in. The Cougars outshot the Royals 11-4 in the opening period.
The Cats will host the U.S. Division-leading Everett Silvertips in back-to-back games Monday afternoon (2 p.m.) and Tuesday night (7 p.m.).
The Cougars are 0-3-0-1 since GM Mark Lamb took over behind the bench as interim head coach when Richard Matvichuk was fired.
“It’s been a bit of a fresh start for some guys,” said Curtis. “I know Mark has changed a few things in terms of our systems and what’s going on and I think we’ve done well adapting to it. It’s not going to happen overnight but I think we’ve done a lot of good things. We just have to get rid of those mistakes.”
Saturday’s WHL summary
Royals 5 at Cougars 4 (SO)
1. Prince George, Maser 21 (Mikhalchuk) 1:53
2. Victoria, Miller 11 (Jerome) 7:16
Penalties – Sidaway Vic (roughing), Crossley PG (roughing) 9:09, Kambeitz Vic (hooking) 12:17, Sidaway Vic (slashing) 16:39.
3. Victoria, Miller 12 (Jerome, Walford) 2:13
4. Prince George, Maser 22 (Browne, Moberg) 10:25 (pp)
Penalties – Crossley PG (hooking) 5:11, Maser PG (slashing) 8:14, Miller Vic (high-sticking) 9:15, Sidaway Vic (kneeing) 10:14, McDonald Vic (misconduct) 10:25, Jerome Vic (fighting), Leppard PG (fighting) 14:07, Kustra Vic (tripping) 15:06, Cutler Vic (fighting), Miller Vic (roughing), Maser PG (fighting), Schoettler PG (roughing) 18:53, MacLean PG (boarding) 19:59.
5. Victoria, McDonald 14 (Walford, Martynov) 0:51 (pp)
6. Prince George, Mikhalchuk 21 (Moberg, Crossley) 7:02
7. Prince George, Upper 4 (Leppard, Curtis) 12:27
8. Victoria, McDonald 15 (Martynov, Murray) 17:03
Penalty – Miller Vic (tripping) 14:04.
Penalties – None.
Shootout – Victoria: Martynov, goal; Jerome, missed; McDonald, goal. Prince George: Browne, missed; Mikhalchuk, goal; Upper, missed.
Shots on goal by
Victoria 4 12 11 4 -32
Prince George11 11 8 1 -31
Goal – Victoria, Outhouse (W,23-15-1-1); Prince George, Gauthier (L,12-23-3-2).
Power plays – Vic: 1-3; PG: 1-6.
Referees – Trevor Nolan, Troy Paterson; Linesmen: Nick Albinati, Nick Bilko.
Attendance – 2,559.
Scratches – Victoria: D Ralph Jarratt (lower body, one week), LW Tyus Gent (lower body, indefinite), LW Sean Gulka (lower body, week-to-week), F Alex Bolshakov (healthy); Prince George: C Ilijah Colina (returned home, indefinite), D Joel Lakusta (concussion, day-to-day).