Everybody loves the Teddy Bear Toss games. It’s a fun spectacle, there’s always a full house and it’s for a great cause, benefiting The Spokesman-Review’s Christmas Bureau.
Maybe next year the team should schedule an opponent that isn’t expected to be in first place. But the final score did not damper the mood when the home team eventually scored – then made a game of it.
Ondrej Becher scored two goals, and the Western Conference’s first-place Prince George Cougars built a five-goal lead en route to a 6-3 win over the eighth-place Spokane Chiefs in a Western Hockey League game at Spokane Arena on Saturday.
Owen Martin, a 16-year-old winger, provided the high point of the festivities for the capacity home crowd of 8,545 with a power-play goal, his sixth of the season, at 11:09 of the second period to trigger a torrential downpour of 6,569 teddy bears.
The Chiefs scored the next two goal to make it a game, but the comeback fell short.
“I think all the fans just being here, supporting us, and showing that support by throwing all those bears I think that just really kind of motivated us to push ourselves to make this comeback,” Martin said.
“When you go (down) 5-0, we needed something and maybe the (teddy bear) goal and the bit of a break was a reset,” Chiefs coach Ryan Smith said. “After that, we seemed to play a little bit better, scoring a couple more and then even in the third we pushed and had some opportunities.”
Things did not start well – at all – for the Chiefs.
Less than one minute into the game, Prince George winger Oren Shtrom walked in unobstructed from the left-wing circle, deked Chiefs goalie Cooper Michaluk and sneaked a backhander past the sprawled goalie for his sixth goal of the season.
Moments later the Cougars (20-7-0-0) came in on a two-on-one, but Michaluk robbed Terik Parascak with a left pad save.
“The very first shift we give up a breakaway to the top scorer in the league,” Smith said. “I mean, there’s no game plan that says ‘You know what, guys? Let’s test ourselves and give them about two or three odd man rushes with a high-octane offense.’ ”
Midway through the first period, PG’s Aiden Foster was sent to the box on a tripping call, giving the Chiefs (10-12-2-0) their first power play opportunity. But fans anxious to toss their teddy bears were forced to wait as the Cougars killed off the infraction.
Prince George made it 2-0 with just under 5 minutes in the period. Riley Heidt carried in on the left wing and left a drop pass for an unmarked Zac Funk, who beat Michaluk blocker side for his WHL-leading 27th goal of the season and a goal in seven straight games.
Just 22 seconds later the Cougars made it 3-0, as Becher ripped a wrist shot past Michaluk – his 14th of the campaign, and the visitors led 3-0 after one.
Early in the second period the Cougars, or more appropriately Jett Lajoie, made it 4-0 as he took a pass alone behind the net, stepped out to Michaluk’s stick side and wrapped it between the goalie’s pads for the 16-year-old’s first WHL goal.
Becher converted a cross-crease pass on the power play 51/2 minutes into the second for his second of the game.
Spokane received its second power play opportunity midway through the second, as Shtrom was sent off for hooking.
This time, the Chiefs made good.
Martin entered the zone alone on the right wing off a pass from Brayden Crampton and send a sharp wrist shot past Ty Young, a Vancouver Canadians prospect, snapping PG’s scoring streak and prompting the fans’ jubilant celebration.
“It was a great pass,” Martin said. “Nice play. Then yeah, I was coming in and just kind of saw that short side and shot it and luckily it went in.”
“He shot the puck hard. It’s about three or four goals like that this year,” Smith said. “He’s been playing quite well, also without the puck. He’s been steady for us. So, he’s coming along nicely. His trajectory is good.”
Five pickup trucks and an army of high schoolers and their families came out to assist the players and staff cleaning up the playing surface. After a roughly 20-minute delay, the game resumed.
The home team took all the momentum.
The Chiefs added their second goal with 1:08 left in the frame as Ben Bonni tipped Ty Cheveldayoff’s backhanded centering pass past Young, for his third of the season.
And they weren’t done. On the next shift, Berkly Catton sneaked past the defense and buried a rebound of Conner Roulette’s original shot from the slot, his 15th of the season. It came 27 seconds after Bonni’s marker and made it a two-goal game entering the third.
Despite the Chiefs owning the better part of play in the third period, it was Prince George that scored the next goal, but not until 3:45 left in the game. Shtrom drove to the net and his shot was stopped, but Michaluk didn’t find the puck on his pad and Matteo Danis stuffed it under him to push the lead back to three.
“Those late goals (in the second) definitely helped us going into third,” Martin said. “In the dressing room at intermission we were all just talking that we got to keep pushing and keep going. And I think we did pretty good with that just, unfortunately came up short.”