Royals trump Cats in defensive struggle

The Victoria Royals have the Prince George Cougars’ number.

They reeled off their ninth-straight regular season win over the Cougars Saturday night at CN Centre, winning 2-1 on a third-period power-play goal from Sean Gulka in front of a Heroes Night crowd of 3,051.

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Kade Oliver also scored for the Royals (9-7-1-0), whose two-game weekend sweep in Prince George moved them to within a point of the Kelowna Rockets for third place in the WHL’s B.C. Division.

Shane Farkas made 15 saves in the Victoria nets in a tight defensive battle between two of the lowest-scoring teams in the WHL. Taylor Gauthier took the loss while blocking 16 shots.

Through 19 games the Cougars have scored just 39 goals for a 2.05 average. Only the Swift Current Broncos, who have 31 goals in 16 games, score less frequently, a 1.82 average.

Josh Maser opened the scoring 2:58 into the game, converting an odd-man rush. He collected a pass from linemate Ilijah Colina and fired a high shot in behind Farkas.

“We started out good, just like (Friday), and I thought we did good throughout the whole game but there were some parts where we kind of weren’t ourselves and got away from what we wanted to do,” said Colina.

“We had our chances and next time we just have to bear down and bury them. It’s going to take time and some of the bounces are going to go our way but we can’t rely on those, we have t find that extra tick to score. It’ll take time but we’ll find it.”

The Royals went 1-for-3 on the power play and took no penalties.

Saturday’s loss dropped the Cougars’ record to 4-13-0-2. They’ve lost nine of their last 10 games. Eight of their losses this season have been by one-goal margins.

“It’s tough losing but I think we’re on the right track, we’re doing the right things,” said Colina. “Those wins will come and we can’t worry about every loss. It was a great crowd and we wanted to treat them a little better but tonight wasn’t that night.”

Playing right wing on the top line with centre Ethan Browne and Josh Maser, Colina’s assist allowed Maser to score his team-leading eighth goal. The 20-year-old Maser also leads the Cats with 14 points.

“I’ve been playing with Mase for three years now and I know where he is on the ice, especially in the o-zone, he’s always going to the net hard,” said Colina. “If I feed it to him I know he’s going to bury it.”

The goal-starved Cats, who lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Royals in Friday, were hoping to have Vladislav Mikhalchuk back in the lineup for the weekend games but were unable to obtain his formal release from his Kontinental Hockey League contract in Russia. The 20-year-old right winger, whose 50 points led the Cougars in scoring last season, should be back in a Cats jersey for their next game Friday in Kamloops. 

“We’re all excited, especially because we’re struggling with scoring goals and we all know Vlad can score plenty of goals for us,” said Colina. “It was a shock when we got him back but it also sucked to lose Matej (Toman, who was traded to Saskatoon to clear an import slot for Mikhalchuk), who’s a great teammate and a great person. He’ll do well in Saskatoon.”

The Cougars also visit the Vancouver Giants on Saturday before they return to CN Centre to prepare for a Tuesday, Nov. 19 game against the Edmonton Oil Kings.

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