Prince George Cougars defenceman Zach Gonek crumples to the ice after being on the receiving end of a punch by Prince Albert Raiders forward Chance Braid during first period action in a rare Monday evening game at the Art Hauser Centre. Herald photo By Perry Bergson
The Prince Albert Raiders fell in the shootout for the first time this season, losing to the Prince George Cougars 6-5 on Monday at the Art Hauser Centre.
Rookie goalkeeper Nick McBride stopped the first three shootout participants before Cougars centre Zach Pochiro, who also forced overtime with a late goal in the dying seconds of the third period, netted the game winner in the shootout's fourth round.
Raiders coach Cory Clouston said having scored five goals in a game for the first time since Dec. 27, there was some silver lining in the loss, but was unimpressed with his team's ability to hold onto the lead.
"Five goals is nice but winning is the most important thing," Clouston said. "We had the lead five times and we just didn't play well with the lead."
On the heels of a thrilling 3-2 shootout victory over the Swift Current Broncos on Friday, McBride appeared in his second-straight start between the pipes on Monday, bailing the Raiders out on a number of close calls.
"He played very well," Clouston said of McBride, also commending the play of several of the team's other young guns. "Our young guys played very well, they played their roles like they need to and they did their job."
In a briskly paced first period, play went on for over five minutes without a whistle until late in the frame, Raiders left wing Chance Braid broke things up, going toe-to-toe with Cougars left wing Zach Gonek in Braid's eighth tilt of the season.
With just under five minutes to go in the opening frame, the Raiders got on the board when centre Reid Gardiner fed the puck to a wide open Brendan Guhle in the slot who then chipped the puck across the crease to centre Jayden Hart who netted his 12th of the season.
The Cougars responded four minutes later on the power play when a backhand shot off the stick of Cougars defenceman Marc McNulty beat McBride to tie things up at ones going into the second period.
Early in the middle frame, Raiders defeceman Josh Morrissey ripped a wrist shot from the point through traffic and between the legs of Cougars backstop Ty Edmonds to regain the lead. The Cougars would strike back less than two minutes later however, with a tally from captain Troy Bourke.
The Raiders found themselves right back in the lead when centre Matteo Gennaro fed right wing Darcy Zaharichuk on a two-on-one to put the Raiders ahead 3-2.
Working on a power play midway through the second frame, the Raiders turned the puck over in the neutral zone to left wing Todd Fiddler who broke in all alone to beat McBride with his second shorthanded tally of the season.
Fiddler, who spent two seasons with the Raiders in 2011 and 2012, said there is just something about coming back to the Art Hauser Centre that elevates his game.
"It's always nice to come back here," Fiddler said. "There's a lot of memories here from my rookie year, the fans were always rocking in the playoffs. I just raise my level of speed and confidence every time I play here."
The Raiders took the lead yet again a minute and a half into the third period when Braid beat an out-of-position Edmonds with his fifth goal of the season.
Continuing with the back-and-fourth pace of Monday's tilt, the Cougars tied thing up yet again when Fiddler netted his second of the night.
On the power play, the Raiders poured a series of shots on Edmonds until centre Dakota Conroy scrambled for the loose puck, netting his second straight goal to put the Raiders back in the lead midway through the third period.
Down a goal with a minute to go, Cougars coach Mark Holick gave Edmonds the yank for the extra-attacker. While the Raiders missed a series of opportunities to shove the puck in the empty net, McBride stood his ground, facing a flurry of shots until the Cougars broke through, forcing overtime with a late Pochiro tally with 16 seconds remaining.
After blanking all three Swift Current Broncos participants on Friday, McBride was again lights out facing the Cougars first four shooters, but was beaten by a Pochiro deke which clinched the game for the Cougars.
The Raiders will hit the road to take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Wednesday before facing the Kootenay Ice on Friday at Western Financial Place.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Monday were Ryan Coghlan, Tim Vanstone and Gage Quinney ... Raiders centre Reid Gardiner has overtaken centre Leon Draisaitl as the team's top goal scorer. Gardiner has netted 20 goals in 46 games this season ... Going into Monday's game, the Raiders were the least penalized team in the league with 570 penalty minutes in 48 games ... In the lineup for the Cougars on Monday was defenceman Sam Ruopp, brother of former Raider and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Harrison Ruopp. Sam Ruopp has posted five points in 44 games this season with the Cougars while elder brother Harrison has played 11 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League this season tallying 18 penalty minutes ... The Raiders post a record of 16-1-0 when leading after two periods and are 16-6-0 when they strike first on the scoreboard.