Howse haunts hometown team

There’s nothing quite like a trip to Prince George to cure what ails ya. Consider the case of the Chilliwack Bruins, who were feeling pretty bad after a 6-0 loss to Vancouver on Sunday night. The Bruins hopped on the bus and headed north for the first of back-to-back games against the Western Hockey League’s worst team, the Prince George Cougars.

Mired in a 13 game winless skid and missing several regulars due to injury, the Cougars (11-54-1-2) proved to be stubborn but accomodating hosts, putting up a fight before falling 7-4 to Chilliwack.

The Bruins wouldn’t have been pleased with their start in this one, but PG forward Troy Bourke couldn’t have scripted a better beginning. Playing in his first game and stepping onto the ice for his first shift, the 15-year-old took a feed from Brett Connolly and fired his first shot past Lucas Gore for his first Western Hockey League goal.

Just 1:32 in, the Cougars had a 1-0 lead.

But the Bruins came roaring back, led by a pair of Prince George natives. Midway through period one, Ryan Howse spent an entire shift terrorizing the PG defence. He was twice thwarted by Cougars keeper Hudson Stremmel on top-notch scoring chances, but finished the shift by passing to Jeff Einhorn for a one-timer that beat Stremmel to the stick side. Einhorn’s third of the season knotted the score at 1-1, and Chilliwack went ahead 4:47 later on a shorthanded goal by Brandon Manning.

While killing off a Jamie Crooks charging minor, Manning took advantage of a PG turnover at the Chilliwack blueline. With a clear-cut breakaway from the red line in, the Bruins captain went to the backhand for his 12th of the season, eclipsing his career high in goals and giving his team a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes of play.

Shots on goal in the first period were 11-5 in favour of Chilliwack.

Howse was at it again early in period two, mercilessly torturing his hometown team. Howse snapped a four game goal-less drought at 4:57 with a top shelf rocket over Stremmel’s glove. His 42nd of the season was also his ninth in seven games against the Cougars this season.

The Calgary Flames prospect notched his 43rd of the season 10 minutes later. Working with the man advantage thanks to a too-many-men minor, Howse took a picturesque feed from linemate Roman Horak, snapping the puck past Stremmel for his first power play goal in 13 games. Howse now trails Oscar Moller by six (32 to 28) for the most power play goals in Chilliwack franchise history.

The small crowd at the CN Centre got something to cheer about with four seconds remaining in the middle frame. James Dobrowolski struck for a power play goal. His 18th of the season came with Chilliwack’s Brenden Persley serving two minutes for roughing.

Shots on goal in the second period were 14-10 in favour of Chilliwack.

Their spirits lifted by Dobrowolski’s late strike, the Cougars came out buzzing in the opening minutes of the third. But the Bruins weathered the storm, and then added to their lead at 3:50 on a goal by Kevin Sundher. The 17-year-old Surrey native wheeled out from behind the net and snapped the puck past Stremmel for his 25th of the season, sucking the life out of the Cougars and their fans.

Tim Traber brought the crowd to its feet moments later, decking Nick Buonassisi with a bone-jarring check. With several friends and family in attendance, the 16-year-old Quesnel native was immediately jumped by PG veteran Brock Hirsche. Traber held his own in a brief scrap.

When the dust settled, Hirsche was given two minutes for instigating, and Traber drew a double-minor for checking from behind.

The Cougars still wouldn’t go quietly, striking for a pair of late goals to draw within one. With the Bruins running around in their own end, Parker Stanfield set up 16-year-old Saskatchewan native Wilson Dumais for his first WHL goal. His strike at 11:06 remaining cut the PG deficit to 5-3.

Bourke added his second of the game with 4:35 remaining to make the final minutes an adventure. But the Bruins settled down, getting late tallies from Howse and Dylen McKinlay (empty netter for his 20th) to wrap up the win.

Chilliwack and Prince George meet in the back half of this two game set tonight at 7 p.m. The next Bruins home game is Friday night against the Portland Winter Hawks.