Royals have last laugh in shootout

For the second time this season, the Victoria Royals inflicted shootout punishment on the Prince George Cougars.

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Tarun Fizer dealt the Cats the stinky card they were trying to avoid, scoring on a low shot that slipped underneath the glove of goalie Taylor Gauthier to give the Royals a 3-2 win in the fourth round of the shootout.

All four goals in regulation time came in the third period and the Cougars needed a late comeback to dig themselves out of a 2-0 deficit. Kade Oliver and Phillip Schultz gave the visitors the lead, but the Cougars countered with goals from Josh Maser and Connor Bowie to force overtime.

“Victoria’s first goal was offside and after that we just said, ‘we’re not giving up,’” said right winger Fillip Koffer, who assisted on the first Cougar goal. “We played like a team and showed some heart and we came back, but this shootout loss hurts.”

Ethan Browne, for the Cougars, and Oliver, also scored in the shootout.

The Royals had two great chances to end it in OT, both coming about 20 seconds into the five-minute session. Maser overskated the puck deep in the Cougar end and Mathew Smith pounced on it, letting go a chest-high shot that Gauthier blocked. The rebound came out to Sean Gulka and Gauthier made an even better save to deny the Royals forward. Gauthier was sharp all game, after a subpar performance Wednesday in a 5-4 loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Friday’s outcome extended the losing streak to four games for the Cougars (4-12-0-2), who lost for the third time in three meetings this season with the Royals (8-7-1-0), who remained fourth in the B.C. Division. All three were one-goal games, including another 3-2 shootout win for the Royals, Sept. 28 in Victoria. The Royals had similar success in a shootout last season against the Cougars.

The empty green seats outnumbered the occupied ones by a three to one margin with just 2,048 in attendance but the Cougar faithful who did show up to support their team became boisterous critics of the linesmen after what looked to be a botched call at the blueline that led to the Royals’ first goal.

Royals defenceman Mitch Prowse appeared to drag the puck across the line into the neutral zone as he lifted a high pass to Oliver behind enemy lines deep in the Cougar zone. Oliver knocked down the puck with his glove and dragged the puck wide across the crease to beat Gauthier with 4:16 gone in the third period.

Offside calls, even if they lead to goals, are not reviewable and after a brief conference of the officials the goal stood, a decision greeted with a cacophony of boos. The jeering continued the rest of the game every time the linesmen blew down the play.

Schultz doubled the lead at 16:11, collecting a loose puck in the slot and firing a wrister low in behind Gauthier. The Cougars had an answer for that less than two minutes later, skating 6-on-5 with Gauthier on the bench. Koffer beat Victoria centre Gary Haden to a loose puck in the corner and rifled a pass into the slot for Maser, who scored on a one-timer.

The tying goal came with 49.3 seconds left. Gauthier got to the bench again and after a Cougar time-out, Cole Moberg gained the puck just inside the Victoria zone and let go a low shot that Bowie tipped in with his stick while standing off to the side of the net.

Victoria outshot the Cats 24-22. Brock Gould made 20 saves to recorded his fourth win of the season.

The same teams meet again Saturday (7 p.m.) at CN Centre.

LOOSE PUCKS: The Cougars were hoping to have 20-year-old right winger Vladislav Mikhalchuk in the lineup Friday but was late scratch due to the fact the paperwork on his release from the KHL did not arrive in time. Mikhalchuk led the Cats in scoring last season with 50 points (25 goals, 25 assists) in 68 games… The Cougars traded 18-year-old forward Matej Toman to the Saskatoon Blades. Toman picked up his first point as A Blade, assisting on the opening goal from fellow Czech Radek Kucerik in what turned out a 3-1 win over the Red Deer Rebels Friday in Saskatoon… Cougars RW Reid Perepeluk sat out Friday’s game with an undetermined injury. D Ethan Samson was back on the Prince George blueline after missing one game with an upper-body injury.

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