By Ryan McCracken on January 12, 2017.
A pair of big deadline deals seemed to be just what the Prince George Cougars needed to knock the Medicine Hat Tigers off their stride Wednesday night at the Canalta Centre.
Medicine Hat’s usually potent third period effort was held quiet Wednesday, as Radovan Bondra and Jared Bethune potted the only goals of the final frame to overcome a late deficit and give the Tigers a taste of their own medicine with a 4-3 comeback win.
“We didn’t come out quite the same for the third,” said Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston, whose team fell to 29-13-1-0 with the loss. “For 40 minutes we played our game and I really liked our game, but the last 20 wasn’t quite as good.”
The Cougars acquired 6-foot-5 Slovakian forward Bondra from the Vancouver Giants and forward Tanner Wishnowski from the Spokane Chiefs prior to Tuesday’s WHL trade deadline —just five days after acquiring Moose Jaw Warriors standout Nikita Popugaev, another 6-foot-5 offensive threat. While Wishnowski didn’t make his debut, Bondra and Popugaev combined for three points to help sink the Tigers, and Cougars captain Sam Ruopp says the team’s new additions were ultimately the difference makers in what was a night of redemption for Prince George — who dropped their first meeting against Medicine Hat 6-4 in November.
“It’s awesome acquiring a couple of pretty good Euros and some big boys,” said Ruopp. “They definitely add to our roster, and we’re going to use everything we have right now.”
Despite the setback, Tigers forward Max Gerlach says the team is taking some solace in the fact they are one of the league’s lone contenders that chose not to seek further additions at the deadline.
“It should give us a lot of confidence. I think it’s important to let everyone know that they feel they can rely on us, and today showed we can compete with these top teams even though we didn’t make any moves,” said Gerlach, adding the battle of the big cats featured two vastly different styles of play. “They like to slow it down, hit you and get in your face and we like to pick it up, move our feet, chip it in and wear them down.”
Medicine Hat’s strong start was snuffed out when Ruopp hit the twine on Prince George’s first shot of the night. While they edged their way back into the contest on goals from Steven Owre and Zach Fischer, the Cougars kept the pace strike-for-strike and Jesse Gabrielle knotted things back up midway through the middle frame.
Matt Bradley pushed the Tigers in front after 40 minutes with his 19th goal of the season, but the jubilation was short-lived as Bondra cashed his first as a Cougar early in the third and Bethune capped off the comeback on the power play
“We were creating lots of opportunities. I had a couple, myself, that I think I should have put in and I think there are other guys on the team who feel that way,” said Gerlach, adding the intensity slipped in the final frame. “We probably thought it was going to come a little bit easier. We’ve got to have a stronger mentality there and come out flying.”
Tigers goaltender Nick Schneider surrendered his second loss in three starts despite posting 27 saves, while Prince George’s Ty Edmonds turned aside 29 pucks to push the Cougars to 29-12-2-0 on the year.
The Tigers are back in action Friday when they welcome the Swift Current Broncos to the Canalta Centre at 7:30 p.m.
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