Bucks pick up win in finale of three game trip to Prince George

Bucks forward Liam Hansson in Prince George (Vicki Brown / MyLight Photography)

The Cranbrook Bucks didn’t find the success they were looking for on the long road trip to Prince George last weekend, but they were able to salvage the trip by winning the third of three straight games against the Spruce Kings.

The long journey to BC’s Northern Capital consisted of three contests in as many nights from Thursday to Saturday.

Thursday’s tilt was the first time the Bucks and Spruce Kings had ever met in a regular season BCHL game, after splitting a pair of exhibition games in Cranbrook last November.

The trip didn’t get off to a great start for the guests, as Spruce Kings defenseman Colton Cameron fired home the first shot of the first game to open the scoring just 18 seconds into the contest.

Cranbrook managed to escape the first period down just the one goal, despite being outshot 12-2 by the Spruce Kings in the opening 20 minutes.

The Bucks did come out with a bit more energy in the second period, but they continued to be outplayed the rest of the way, finishing with a 44-20 deficit on the shot clock.

41 saves from the game’s third star Nathan Airey weren’t enough as the bus-legged Bucks fell 3-0 in front of 577 fans Thursday night in Prince George.

The Bucks looked like a much different team on Friday night, although the game started similarly to the one 24 hours prior.

In front of 1,000 fans on 1980s night at Rolling Mix Concrete Arena, the Spruce Kings once again jumped out to an early lead when captain Kolton Cousins beat Airey at the 00:39 mark of the opening frame.

The goal sent RMCA into a furry frenzy, as it was “Drop the gloves and sock it to ‘em” night in Prince George. Teddy bears, tuques, mittens, and other warm clothing items littered the ice as the Bucks found themselves in another first-minute hole.

The hosts would double that lead just under five minutes later when Rowan Miller scored a power play marker to make it 2-0.

The two-goal lead didn’t last long however, as Bucks all-star rookie Tyson Dyck buried one to make it 2-1 just 35 seconds later.

Another Bucks rookie Kellan Hjartarson would add an equalizer just past the midway point of the first period to tie the game up at two, which is where the score stayed into the third period.

A much better effort on Friday saw Cranbrook carry a 19-15 shots advantage and a slight edge in play into the second intermission, but the score remained even.

The Bucks strong play would net them a lead early in the final frame, as Dyck potted his second of the game just 1:26 into the period to put the visitors up 3-2.

Cranbrook spent the next 12 minutes desperately trying to fight off a hungry Spruce Kings team, who carried a convincing 13-4 shots advantage in the third.

With 6:58 on the clock, Prince George broke through and tied the game. Then, just half a minute later, the Bucks found themselves on the penalty kill, and you could feel the game slipping away.

With under five minutes remaining, Cousins converted on the PP for his second of the game to put the home team back in front.

Despite a late PP of their own and some chances to score, the Bucks squandered what was a decent road effort in a hostile environment in a 4-3 Friday night defeat.

Cranbrook entered Saturday’s contest as a desperate group, having lost four of its first five games in December.

You could sense their urgency in the opening minutes, as the Bucks jumped out to a 2-0 lead just over eight minutes in.

But as was the case for the entirety of the trip, nothing came easy for the Bucks, and a Spruce Kings goal at the 00:49 mark of the second period brought the game back to even.

The back-and-forth play continued for the remainder of regulation, as the score was 3-3 and the shots were 24-24 through 60 minutes, and the game needed overtime.

Having secured their first point of the weekend in Prince George, the Bucks went hunting for a win, and it didn’t take long for their leading scorer to cash in.

Dyck picked up his fourth goal of the weekend and 16th of the season at 00:22 of overtime to secure the victory.

Five points in the weekend series against the Spruce Kings brought Dyck’s team-leading total to 31 points through 22 games. His 16 goals and 15 assists both also lead the Bucks, and he has now been in on 46% of the Bucks total offence this season.

Goaltender Evan Gartner stopped 21 of 24 shots on Saturday for his fifth win of the season, after a couple of hard-luck losses for Airey the two previous nights.

Cranbrook’s captain Rhys Bentham picked up four points over the weekend, including his first goal of the season. Bentham now has one goal and 13 assists in 20 contests on the campaign, tying him for fourth on the team with 14 points.

Just ahead of Bentham is Hjartarson with seven goals and nine assists for 16 points, after he tallied a goal and three assists on the trip.

The Bucks look to improve on their 2-4 record in December and their 1-2-1 record against Trail this season as they prepare for four straight games against their Kootenay rival Smoke Eaters.

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