Gau­thier great in net for Cougars

The Prince George Citizen - - SPORTS - Ted CLARKE Ci­ti­zen staff tclarke@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca

Taylor Gau­thier could not have picked a bet­ter team to beat for his first Western Hockey League win.

The 16-year-old from Cal­gary, dubbed the goalie of the fu­ture for the Prince Ge­orge Cougars, wasn’t overly busy while fac­ing just 17 shots Tues­day night at CN Cen­tre. But he was good when he had to be in a 7-1 win over the Cal­gary Hit­men – his favourite WHL team un­til that day in May 2016 when the Cougars made him their first-round ban­tam draft choice.

“It’s a re­ally cool ex­pe­ri­ence to get my first win against the home­town team I grew up watch­ing and idol­iz­ing,” said Gau­thier. “Ob­vi­ously it would have been nice to save that one goal but at the end of the day we got the win and that’s all I re­ally care about.

“I don’t think the score was re­ally ac­cu­rate, they played a good game and gave us a good run for our money right to the third pe­riod.”

Af­ter they host Kam­loops in a twogame week­end set this Fri­day and Satur­day at CN Cen­tre, the Cougars head to Al­berta next week and Gau­thier has Oct. 22 marked on his cal­en­dar. He’s hop­ing to get the start when the Cougars and Hit­men meet for the re­match Oct. 22 at the Sco­tia­bank Sad­dle­dome.

Cougars head coach Richard Matvichuk says there’s a good chance that will hap­pen. He cer­tainly liked what he saw out of his rookie goalie in Tues­day’s game.

“Sean Mur­ray, be­ing here as our goalie coach, has worked with him tire­lessly and it’s pay­ing off,” said Matvichuk. “It might be a bit of added pres­sure for him (to play in Cal­gary) but he played well enough to get the start any­time.

“I thought he was fan­tas­tic, he moved the puck real well and made the first save when he had to. Ex­cept for the ac­ro­batic one at the end there that gives coaches gray hair I thought he was real good. He’s very com­posed for a 16-yearold. Af­ter his first cou­ple starts, ob­vi­ously he wasn’t happy with the out­come and he knows if he puts the work ethic in it’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore good things hap­pen and (Tues­day night) was a per­fect ex­am­ple.”

Gau­thier’s un­for­get­table night pro­duced a mem­o­rable save in the third pe­riod when he had Hit­men cen­tre Mat­teo Gen­naro bear­ing down on him. Gau­thier bob­bled the shot with his glove and the puck kicked up high and over his head and was go­ing into the net when he spun and swat­ted it out of the air with his stick blade.

Not that it re­ally would have mat­tered much if it had gone in. The Cougars were com­fort­ably ahead 5-1 at that point. Gen­naro scored the only Hit­men goal, a power-play bul­let in the sec­ond pe­riod, to make it 3-1 game.

Picked ninth over­all in the 2016 draft, Gau­thier was an in­te­gral part of the Cal­gary Buf­faloes midget triple-A team last sea­son, lead­ing them to Al­berta Midget League reg­u­lar sea­son ti­tle in 2017. He’s el­i­gi­ble for the 2019 NHL draft.

Gau­thier al­lowed four goals in his first WHL game Sept. 23 at CN Cen­tre, a 5-1 loss to Spokane, and was in for all five goals while los­ing 5-1 Sept. 29 in Seat­tle. With just three games be­hind him this sea­son, he’s made a rapid ad­just­ment to fac­ing down WHL shoot­ers.

“Just the speed of the shots and the way the guys can hide their re­leases is so much bet­ter from the level I played last year, but I’m start­ing to get used to that and I’m get­ting more com­fort­able out there,” he said. “I just need to keep build­ing and get more con­fi­dence ev­ery day and hope­fully I can get more starts. I do my best to save ev­ery shot in prac­tice so when­ever it gets to the games I’m ready for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to make the save.”

Kody McDon­ald was the big gun for the Cats Tues­day with three goals – his sec­ond ca­reer WHL hat trick. Aaron Boyd, Josh Maser, Vladi­imir Mikhalchuk and Jared Bethune also scored for P.G. Bethune’s goal was a thing of beauty, a toe-drag move through the mid­dle to split the de­fence, while short­handed, as was Boyd’s break­away goal in the third pe­riod.

On a day in which the Cougars placed 20-year-old de­fence­man Shane Collins on waivers it was fit­ting the other three 20-year-olds – Bethune, Boyd and Bro­gan O’Brien – took it upon them­selves to set the tone as lead­ers on the ice. Collins was a fix­ture on the Cougars’ blue­line for four full sea­sons and it was hard on ev­ery­body on the team – es­pe­cially the vet­er­ans – to have to say good­bye as the dead­line to de­clare the three over­agers came and went Tues­day.

“It was a tough day for our guys, it was an emo­tional day and there were tears flow­ing,” said Matvichuk. “What it was was a learn­ing les­son for these guys who are even­tu­ally go­ing to be pro hockey play­ers that stuff like this can hap­pen any day and it’s how you re­act to it.

“We want to thank Shane for what he’s done here, he’s a fan­tas­tic kid and we hope he lands on his feet, he’s go­ing to be missed. When you see a kid of his na­ture you’ve got to give the par­ents credit be­cause he was raised per­fectly. He’s a gen­tle­man and a class act in ev­ery means and that was prob­a­bly the tough­est de­ci­sion this or­ga­ni­za­tion has had to make since I’ve been here.”

Josh An­der­son suf­fered a sep­a­rated shoul­der in the third pe­riod last Fri­day in the Cougars’ 7-6 over­time loss to the Kelowna Rock­ets at CN Cen­tre. The 19-year-old de­fence­man, a third-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2016, will be out of the lineup for six to eight weeks. They also are with­out 16-year-old Jonas Harkins, side­lined for the next two weeks with a lower-body in­jury.

With Collins be­ing re­leased, the Cougars called up 1999-born de­fence­man Peter Kope from the Cam­rose Ko­di­aks of the AJHL. Kope played Tues­day.

Cougars left winger Jack­son Lep­pard, who has been play­ing well on a line with Bethune and McDon­ald, made NHL Cen­tral Scout­ing’s Septem­ber list of play­ers to watch and is be­ing pro­jected as a fourth- to sixth-round draft pick.

The 17-year-old Lep­pard, picked by the Cats eighth over­all in 2016, has three goals and six points in eight games in his sopho­more sea­son.

It’s a re­ally cool ex­pe­ri­ence to get my first win against the home­town team I grew up watch­ing and idol­iz­ing. — Taylor Gau­thier

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