Pilots defenceman Kellan Lavallee attacks the net during Friday's game against Richmond.

Pilots defenceman Kellan Lavallee attacks the net during Friday's game against Richmond.

Pilots blank Sockeyes and now sit tied for first in conference

Goaltender Alexander Kong picked up his first Pacific Junior Hockey League shutout

Healthy for the first time in months, the Abbotsford Pilots showed they could fly with the league’s best, knocking off the Richmond Sockeyes 2-0 in the final game of 2014.

Abbotsford (15-9-2-4) is now tied with Aldergrove for first in the Harold Brittain Conference with 34 points, though the Kodiaks have a game in hand. Richmond (25-6-0-2) entered the game four points up on North Vancouver for first in the league.

“We’re getting healthy,” said head coach Jim Cowden. “We’re a good team when we can get everyone on the same ship. It’s the first time in, honestly, months, we’ve had that.”

Goaltender Alexander Kong picked up his first Pacific Junior Hockey League shutout, stopping 26 shots for his third win of the year. However, the clean sheet was more of a systems shutout.

“Alex played well, but we didn’t give them a lot,” said Cowden. “A lot of it was from the outside. We clogged the lanes, we had good sticks. We didn’t give them a lot of good chances, even on the power play. So give a credit to our D and even our forwards coming back. We were able to stick to our game plan.”

Devon Vander Wyk scored the winning goal, his first in almost a month. His last goal was Nov. 21 against Ridge Meadows, a span of nine games. Team captain Brady Lawlor also scored.

He’s been great,” said Cowden of Vander Wyk. “He does things away from the puck, the intangibles that you need on a hockey club. He gets lots of minutes because he works hard, he’s smart, he penalty kills. He’s a very valuable asset to us.”

The Pilots dominated the first period, outshooting the Sockeyes 9-1, but were unable to beat the Richmond goalkeeper. The best scoring chances came around the 12-minute mark when Alalouf made saves off Cole Methorst and Colton Cowden from the slot, each time pushing the puck into the corner, away from danger.

The visitors came out with gusto in the second intermission, however, getting a few early looks on Kong. On an early power play Charles Young’s shot from the top of the face-off circle snuck through the five-hole but clanged off the iron. Then the league’s leading scorer Troy Kaczynski got a great shot from the slot off the draw around the seven-minute mark but Kong threw his blocker out to make the stop.

Lawlor’s line regained some momentum for the home side, creating a pair of quality scoring chances, including his set up of Kolten Grieve’s one-timer in the low slot, but Alalouf held his ground.

Abbotsford finally opened the scoring at the 15:16 mark while shorthanded. Tyler Fraser started an odd man rush from his own end, blazing down the left wing, before sliding the puck over to Vander Wyk at the backdoor. The Agassiz native redirected it past the outstretched leg of Alalouf for his sixth goal of the season.

The Sockeyes had another near miss in the third when Matthew Bissett’s shot grazed both Kong’s shoulder and then the crossbar with five minutes left.

That’s when the Pilots iced the game with 2:59 to play. Just after a power play expired Mitchell Plevy slid a pass into the slot to Lawlor, who’s hard shot blocker side eluded Alalouf, giving him 13 on the season.

The new year will also see the return of Devon Becker. The team now gets a well-deserved week off.

“We’ve been battling hard for the last two or three months with limited bodies, so they have earned a rest,” said Cowden. “We’ll start back up on the 28th.”