Blazers battle hard, earn single point in OT loss to Cougars

By Adam Donnelly
March 15, 2019 - 10:43pm Updated: March 16, 2019 - 12:32am

KAMLOOPS — The Prince George Cougars bent but didn’t break, as they walked into the Sandman Centre and stole a point from the Blazers in their final home game of the season.

The Cougars opened the scoring at the 4:13 mark of the first period as Rhett Rhineheart scored his fifth goal of the year. Kamloops responded late in the opening frame, as Kobe Mohr potted his 8th of the year.

The Blazers then took their first lead five minutes into the second period as Ryley Appelt picked up his fifth goal of the year.

That lead stood for just 71 seconds into the third period, when Vladislav Mikhalchuk scored his 23rd of the season to tie the game.

Mikhalchuk then picked up his third point of the game, as he picked up an assist on Josh Curtis’ go-ahead goal for the Cougars at 6:51 of the period.

Mike McLean gave the Cougars a two-goal lead, as he picked up an errant Blazers pass in the neutral zone after exiting the penalty box, waltzing in alone, and beating Dylan Garand 10 seconds shy of the halfway mark of the final frame.

“I thought we gave them a couple of gifts in the 3rd period,” Blazers head coach Serge Lajoie said after the game. “I thought those might have been errors of wanting it so bad or being a little nervous. We can’t have those mistakes tomorrow.”

But the Blazers would battle back.

On the power-play, Kyrell Sopotyk found a rebound in traffic to the right of Taylor Gauthier and got Kamloops back within one.

Then with Garand on the bench for an extra skater, Connor Zary found a loose puck in the crease and buried his 23rd of the season with just 55 seconds left to play to even the score at four apiece.

In overtime the Captain, Jermaine Loewen almost ended it on his first touch in extra time. Loewen picked up the puck, split the defenders and tried to stuff it past Gauthier, who made an incredible save to preserve the Cougars chance at victory.

“I just picked up enough speed - y’know, big man, got the crossovers going,” Loewen said after the game. “I tried to outwait the goalie and put my backhand over top of his glove, but it didn’t work out. It was a good energy boost for us in overtime and I thought after that got some good opportunities.”

Kamloops wasn’t able to convert those opportunities, and Prince George found victory 3:46 into extra time, as the Cougars broke in on Garand 3-on-1. It was Mikhalchuk, on a nice feed from Curtis, ending it on a forehand-backhand move to give PG the 5-4 OT win.

The Blazers picked up a single point with the OT loss, moving them into a tie for 3rd place in the BC Division with Kelowna, who lost 2-1 to the Giants in Langley on Friday.

Both teams have 62 points heading into their 68th and final games of the season, and if they remain tied after Saturday’s action tiebreaker game will take place to determine which team gets the final BC Division berth into the playoffs. That game would be played Tuesday night at the Sandman Centre.

Blazer hockey hands out hardware Friday night