Airey’s 33 saves, Smith’s late winner lead Cranbrook to 3-2 win in Prince George

📸: Vicki Browm / MyLight Photography

The Cranbrook Bucks travelled to Prince George to face the Spruce Kings for the first time this season on Friday night, and earned an important 3-2 win in regulation time on the road.

Cranbrook is featuring a new-look roster after several transactions over the past number of days, and it was a newcomer to the herd that opened the scoring on Friday.

Following a scoreless first period that saw the Bucks outshoot Prince George 11-10, the visitors jumped out in front early in the second.

18-year-old forward Blake Cotton — who was acquired in a trade with Surrey earlier in the week — jumped on a rebound following a wrap-around attempt and tucked it past Spruce Kings goalie Jordan Fairlie to put Cranbrook up 1-0.

It was Cotton’s first BC Hockey League goal after recording an assist in 19 games with the Eagles prior to the trade.

Jaden Fodchuk and Jaxon Fuder drew the assists on Cotton’s icebreaker at 3:32 of the middle frame.

The Spruce Kings responded on a goal by Jack Stockfish from Luca Primerano and Jake Schneider at 7:11 of the second stanza to even the game at one, where it stayed through 40 minutes.

Prince George outshot the Bucks by a 10-5 margin in the middle frame, but the third period began with the game squared up a 1-1.

It didn’t take long to get a goal in the final frame, and it was Cranbrook’s leading-scorer that was able to put it home following some nice puck movement by the top line.

Jack Silich’s team-leading 15th goal of the season from Kellan Hjartarson and Noah Quinn just 1:29 into the period gave the Bucks a 2-1 advantage on the road.

The Spruce Kings would once again respond when John Herrington capitalized on a power-play from Austin Fraser and Ben LeFranc at 7:59 to tie the game at two.

The game stayed tied into the final minutes of the third, despite both teams having a power-play opportunity around the midway point of the period.

With less than four minutes to go, Cranbrook took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to grab a late lead.

Following a strong forecheck by Cotton, the puck squirted up the middle of the ice and Jarrod Smith buried it on the backhand to put the Bucks up 3-2 at 16:19 of the third.

Despite being outshot 15-7 in the period and 35-23 in the game, Cranbrook was able to hold on for the 3-2 win — thanks in large part to goaltender Nathan Airey.

Making 14 saves in the third and 33 on the night, Airey was named third star of the game after a solid performance for his 10th victory of the season.

Airey improved his season stat-line to a 10-6-1 record with a 2.58 goals-against-average and a .924 save-percentage after his strong performance in his 70th career BCHL game on Friday night.

The Bucks improved their record on the season to 14-8-1, and moved one point ahead of the Spruce Kings to leapfrog them for third-place in the Interior Conference standings.

Cranbrook also improved its all-time record against Prince George to 3-3-0, including 2-2-0 on the road.

The Bucks are now 7-3-0 in their past 10 games, while the Spruce Kings fell to 4-5-1 in their last 10.

The same two teams will do battle again on Saturday night — same time, same place — 7:00pm pacific time at Kopar Memorial Arena in Prince George.

Friday’s game boxscore from the BCHL website can be found here, while a recap from Cranbrook’s website is here.

The game highlights can be viewed below from the Bucks’ YouTube channel.

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