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Hitmen Claw Out Win Over Cougars

Candice Ward/Photo

A win was much needed. Mission accomplished.

The Hitmen threw everything and anything on net and were rewarded with their play with a 4-1 victory over the Prince George Cougars Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

They came out hungry for the win and they weren’t going to be denied.

“Everyone was working hard and there wasn’t much more you could’ve asked for,” Mark Kastelic said. “We had the right energy and tenacity tonight and we were determined to come out with the win.

“It was a big week in preparation for us which resulted in having a big game to get back into the win column.”

Luke Coleman, James Malm, Kastelic and Cael Zimmerman all scored to lead the charge with Dakota Krebs chipping in with a pair of assists. In his 20th straight start in goal, Jack McNaughton was sensational stopping 35 shots for his 16th win on the season. Kastelic’s third period powerplay marker was his 30th of the season and league-leading 16th powerplay marker.

Prince George saw their lone goal come off the stick off Tyson Upper with Taylor Gauthier being a busy man stopping 45 shots in the loss.

McNaughton continued his strong play but was given a scare in the third period when he went down after a skate blade caught him under his mask and on the chin.

“It was a scary situation,” head coach Steve Hamilton said. “You hold your breath for a little bit but we were glad to see him shake it off and get back to the task at hand.”

“His confidence is shining through and he has made some unbelievable saves at critical times of the games. He’s been big for us in these last 20 games and at times when we haven’t been playing well, he’s never given up and been phenomenal.”

The goaltender made some key saves once again but perhaps one of the biggest saves of the night came when defenceman Vladislav Yeryomenko sacrificed his body to block a shot from going into an open net late in the contest.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about a blocked shot before,” McNaughton said. “It was crazy to the puck right there and then see Yo-Yo come out of nowhere to make a big skate save.

“It was probably one of if not the best save of the game right there.”

With the win and a Wheat Kings loss, the Hitmen now improve their cushion to four points over Brandon for the second and final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.

Something had to give after the tough weekend they had just had, and it was a very business-like and disciplined approach to a game that had two big points on the line.

“Discipline is a big part of success,” Hamilton said. “We had trouble with that last game against Red Deer and it’s hard to garner traction when you are sending your PK out there over and over again.

“We played with an edge but had the poise and confidence to control our emotions.”

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