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Matthew Phillips. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

The Victoria Royals hosted the Prince George Cougars for game one of their two-game, back-to-back set at Save on Foods Memorial Centre on Wednesday. They lost the rust-buster 5-3.

“That’s exactly what I would call it,” said Coach Dan Price. “A rust-buster, but I thought we played well in the first period and for stretches during the third,”

The game kicked-off the second half of the regular season for the Royals. Entering the game, the Royals have accumulated a record of 20-13-3-0 and sit in second place in the BC Division. The Cougars are 12-17-2-3 and are positioned in fifth.

The Cougars got on the scoresheet first, against the flow and on a broken play. Griffen Outhouse was screened on a shot by defenceman Joel Lakusta. It was an unassisted marker and his third of the season. The 6’ 2” Sherwood Park native scored from just inside the blue line.

The Royals returned the favour at 6:31 on the powerplay with new acquisition from Moose Jaw, Noah Gregor, who is a San Jose Sharks draft pick, scoring from in-close on the backhand. It was Gregor’s 16th of the season and his second as a Royals player. On the play, Phillips had taken a swipe at a Hannoun pass, Gregor capitalized as the puck bounced off the goaltender to his stick.

Ten seconds later, Nick Holowko scored to put the Cougars up 2-1. It was his first as a Cougar and fourth of the season, it was his fifth game with the Cougars after being acquired from the Kamloops Blazers. He walked out of the corner and tucked the puck under the pads of Outhouse.

Tyler Soy, who owns the career franchise points record, scored his 14th of the season on a high pass from Chaz Reddekopp that deflected off of his leg and into the net. The goal came on the rush with Mitchell Prowse earning the second assist.

Phillips was at it again. Perhaps his hot start was due to the snub from Team Canada. He scored from his office on the powerplay with his 25th of the season. The Calgary native and Flames draft pick was focussed early and throughout the first. The goal came at 12:03 from Dante Hannoun and Soy. Phillips would become a target for the Cougars.

“Yes he was like he is most games, but he played well despite the attention,” said Price.

At 14:48 Jackson Leppard scored his eighth of the season, the goal was reviewed, the replay on the big screen clearly showed a distinctive kicking motion; however, it stood. The crowd voiced their displeasure with the call.

“We got an explanation about that goal,” said Price. “The ref said that the kicked puck that is kicked from outside of the blue paint can count as a goal. It is when it is kicked from inside the blue pain that it is not a goal.”

During the second period, the Cougars went after Matthew Phillips, dropping him to the ice in front of the Cougars’ net, at the end boards and hitting from behind late in the second. The hit-from-behind earned Jared Bethune a two-minute boarding penalty. On the ensuing powerplay, the Royals had plenty of looks but goaltender Tavin Grant was stopping everything that came at him.

Josh Maser scored the only goal of the second period, his 14th of the season from Kody McDonald and Jackson Leppard at 2:54. It was a powerplay marker.

During the third period the game continued to slip out of reach as the Royals took penalties, including a high sticking play in the Prince George zone by Gregor as well as a Reddekopp penalty for tripping, although the replay showed that an unsportsmanlike call should have been made on the dive. Thirty-four seconds later the even-up call came, taking the Cougars off of the two-man advantage.

The Royals pressed, but to no avail. With Outhouse pulled, Lakusta scored his second of the game to double his season total at 19:56.

The powerplays went 2/7 and 2/8 for the Royals and Cougars respectively.

Griffen Outhouse stopped 22 of 26 shots while Tavin Grant stopped 36 of 39.

Asked about outshooting the Cougars but coming up short Price said, “we have had it the other way a lot this season, where we have been outshot and came out on the winning end.”

Twenty-five of the first 31 games the Royals were outshot.

The two teams go at it again Thursday night at Save on Foods Memorial Centre. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 pm. A good-size, Wednesday night crowd of 5,637 took in the midweek game.

Skate Blades: Earlier in the day, the Royals announced the acquisition of new players Jeff de Witt, Braydon Buziak and a conditional pick from the Kootenay Ice and the Regina Pats respectively, while Royals’ Jared Legien headed east to his hometown of Regina.

The new players were not dressed, while Igor Martynov is in Buffalo representing his native Belarus in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, who lost earlier in the day 3-2 to Switzerland. Martynov did not factor in the scoring.

Dan Priace and Dante Hannoun in Royals post-game media scrum:

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