It was a showdown of two of the WHL’s best 16-year-olds on Tuesday night and the Prince George goaltender ended up winning the battle.
While Kootenay Ice forward Peyton Krebs was in top form and managed to score his team’s only goal, fellow 2016 first round Bantam Draft pick Taylor Gauthier was near perfect in a 40-save performance.
In the third game of their B.C. Division road trip, the Ice generated a lot of chances against the Cougars, but were stumped by the hot goaltender and further let down by costly turnovers.
Although they had a chance to salvage the game with six power play chances, the league’s worst man advantage continued to struggle in the 3-1 loss.
Starting the game with competent play, the Ice unfortunately made the first mistake of the night. Just three minutes in, rookie Cole Muir delivered an errant pass in the defensive zone that was picked off by Pavel Azhgirei at the blue line.
The Belarussian winger took advantage of the break, walked in and beat Duncan McGovern for his first ever WHL goal on his team’s first shot of the night.
While the Ice got more pucks to the net than the Cougars did in the early proceedings, a number of self-imposed giveaways created breakaways and odd man rushes that nearly cost Kootenay.
Coming off a shutout performance in Kamloops on Sunday, however, McGovern handled everything Prince George could muster with ease. In the first frame alone, McGovern stopped a Brogan O’Brien breakaway and foiled a two-on-one between O’Brien and Jared Bethune.
Kootenay had their chances as well, with Brett Davis stickhandling through everyone to the net and Vince Loschiavo getting a partial break, but the 16-year-old Gauthier stood tall.
After ending the period with shots 15 -7 in their favour, the Ice capitalized early in the second frame as Loeden Schaufler flipped up a puck past centre ice which miraculously found a streaking Krebs.
Out to play the puck at a risky distance from his crease, Gauthier was caught by Krebs who slid the puck into an empty net to tie the game.
Great play by Schaufler, good speed by Krebs but no doubt a strange tying goal for the @WHLKootenayICE.— Brad McLeod (@bradleydmcleod) December 6, 2017
It's 1-1 between the Ice and the Prince George Cougars midway through the second. pic.twitter.com/c3jxMrQ8a6
McGovern was then relied upon for a few more game-saving stops, but as the second intermission approached tides appeared to be shifting in the Ice’s favour.
With only three seconds left in the period, Josh Maser earned a delay of game call after flipping a puck into the stands and on the ensuing faceoff, Josh Anderson was tagged for high sticking Cameron Hausinger.
Starting off the third period with a 5-on-3 power play for almost a full two minutes, the Ice had a considerable chance to take a lead, but couldn’t create any sure-fire scoring opportunities.
While a cross-crease pass from Krebs to Loschiavo was the closest opportunity, Gauthier made an easy stop. The goalie was then tested again after the power play, when Colton Kroeker broke free for a breakaway, but the Ice’s leading scorer couldn’t find an inch of net to shoot at.
Near the eight minute mark, a mistake cost Kootenay again as a pair of players chased Liam Ryan behind the net and he fed a wide-open Maser in front of McGovern. Making no mistake on the quick release, Maser and his team didn’t look back from there.
Cougars take the lead with 11:17 left in the 3rd pic.twitter.com/c8Xsfsoh5Q— Kootenay ICE (@WHLKootenayICE) December 6, 2017
Wasting the latter half of the period with frustration penalties, the Ice were eventually forced to pull their goalie and subsequently had trouble in the neutral zone, leading to Maser scoring again.
Overall, the Ice didn’t capitalize on a golden opportunity against the Cougars and let their power play worsen to a 13.5 percent effectiveness rate, a full-percentage worse than the Cougars, who also put up a donut in two man advantage chances on Tuesday.
According to Ice head coach James Patrick, the team blundered on a winnable game.
“The game was there [for us] and we created a lot of chances, but as the game wore on we weren’t willing to pay the price,” he said. “We lost too many battles [and] every power play, we didn’t get one retrieval all night.
“We had two really good looks and guys jumped out of the way… you’re not going to score doing that.”
After 30 games, the Ice now have a 13-16-1-0 record and although they remain in third place in the Central Division, they are the only team currently in the playoff picture below .500. While Gauthier marked his fourth career win in his 11th game with the Cougars, Krebs’ 23 points in 25 games still has him at the top of the league in scoring amongst 16-year-old rookies.
Kootenay has an opportunity to get back on track as they close their lengthy road trip with games against the Victoria Royals on Friday and the Vancouver Giants on Saturday.