The Prince George Cougars are in the win column in the B.C. Division hubs.
In Kelowna, the Cats prevailed to a 5-3 back-and-forth triumph Monday night (March 29) over the Victoria Royals, improving to a 1-1 record on the 24-game season.
Fort St. John's Connor Bowie notched his first career WHL hat-trick, the second multi-goal game of his four-season stint, including Prince George's game-opening and insurance-clinching markers.
He tells PrinceGeorgeMatters it was a long-awaited monkey to get off his back.
“It is for sure [...] especially right at the start of the season. It’s a good feeling and it’s nice to get that first win,” the soon-to-be 20-year-old First Star said with excitement in his voice (and likely a very big smile behind the mask).
“We just wanted to come in hot. We wanted to push the rails really really hard right off the bat. We want to be a team that attacks all the time and we don’t want to take our foot off the gas at all, so we really just want to come out fast. That’s what we did in the first and then that’s how we want to play the rest of the season.”
One of four alternate captains with experience, Bowie has been enlisted on Prince George’s top line in the first two outings in the dual hub format with Tyson Upper and rookie Kyren Gronick.
That line combined for six of the Cougars’ 15 points on the scoresheet, and says the chemistry has been clicking for the top three one and off the ice.
“It’s kind of funny. We only had about a week together before we actually started playing, but we gelled together right away. We’re all hanging out all the time, but it’s just something we kind of found early on. We read off each other, Upper is a quick player, same with Gronick. They’re both small but got good hands, and I can kind of come in and play that centre role and we work together really well [...] and we’re going to stick with it.”
Riley Heidt, who was the second overall pick in the 2020 WHL Draft, became the fourth Cougars' rookie to score their first WHL goal in the first two games, coming four days after turning 16 years old.
The Saskatoon forward pulled the trigger on a snipe-shot from the middle of the right circle to put the puck between the near post and Victoria netminder Adam Evanoff’s left shoulder.
He also came up big in the face-off circle with a 75 per cent rating in winning nine of 12 attempts.
Cougars’ General Manager and Head Coach Mark Lamb believes Heidt, in just a short period of time, has adapted to the WHL level very quickly in all aspects of the game.
“He’s a high-end player, and you could just see by that shot, those types of players [can] snuff that out,” he said when asked by PrinceGeorgeMatters about 16-year-old centre-man.
“I thought he felt really comfortable at the beginning of the game, even with the physical, like, he’s not afraid of anything. It’s really nice to see and all of our young guys are doing their part.”
Ethan Browne potted the game-winning goal, his second in as many contests, 6:55 into the second period.
Goaltender Tyler Brennan got the victory with 29 saves and 32 shots for the fifth 'W' of his young major junior career.
Lamb credited his team’s defensive ability, especially in the final minutes of the third period when they had to defend six-on-five for roughly two minutes.
“Those are great moments in hockey games when you’re trying to close it out, you know, I thought Brennan made some good saves for us down the stretch,” he described.
“Together with the experience of not just our defence, but with our forwards that are out there especially helping with our goalies. You know, we haven’t gotten to practice a lot of that stuff yet and the way the season is, you got to practice from the games. Basically, you get a feel from that and you move on.”
Cougars’ special teams scored two of their five goals, while killing off three of four penalties.
While the energy may be back on a high the team hasn’t felt since March 7, 2020, when they beat the Vancouver Giants in overtime prior to the COVID-19 cancellation, Bowie says it’ll soon be time to forget about it.
“We can’t get too high, but we can’t get too low,” he said.
“It’s pretty cliche, but it’s all short-term memory here. We just gotta play, take what we can from that game, forget about it and learn about our next opponent.”
The Cougars' will meet the G-men for the first time in more than a year Wednesday night (March 31), 7 p.m. back in the Kamloops bubble.