PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - Linden Vey had a hat trick and added two assists as the Medicine Hat Tigers pounded Prince George 9-3 Tuesday, sending the last-place Cougars to their 10th straight Western hockey League defeat.
The Tigers put the game out of reach with five goals in the first period. Under the tutelage of national junior team coach Willie Desjardins, the Tigers demonstrated slick passing in the offensive zone and put four of their five first-period goals into open nets.
The fifth Medicine Hat marker in the period encapsulated the Cougars' frustrating season. On the play, Kale Kessy wired a shot off the mask of Cougars starter Kyle Jahraus and the puck ended up on the stick of Bretton Cameron, who was left with a tap-in. The goal came with just two seconds left on the clock.
The other Medicine Hat goal scorers in the first were Wacey Hamilton, Vey, Matt MacKay and Cole Grbavac as the Cougars were guilty of giving their opponents too much respect.
At the start of the second period, the previously-injured Hudson Stremmel replaced Jahraus in goal. Stremmel had been experiencing concussion-like symptoms for weeks and wasn't given much time to clear his head after he entered the game.
Teammate Alex Rodgers did strike for a goal at the 8:10 mark but, at 10:52, Vey was allowed to bust in front of the Prince George net while the Tigers were short handed, and he went to his backhand to beat Stremmel. The teams then traded goals, Brock Hirsche scoring for the Cougars and Zdenek Okal replying for the Tigers.
The Cougars spent most of the third period killing penalties and couldn't get much rolling. With fewer than three minutes left, Rodgers finally gave the sparse crowd of 1,663 a rare reason to cheer when he drove hard to the net and scored while the Cougars were two men short.
The Tigers quickly regained momentum converting twice on their power play. Hamilton connected for his second of the night and Vey notched his third to complete the blowout.
In a rare bit of good news for the Cougars, Brett Connolly skated on Monday for the first time since Dec. 5 in Kamloops. Injuries to both sets of hip muscles have limited him to just 12 games this season in which he put up 13 points.
The 17-year-old Connolly is in his draft year, and despite his health woes this season, is rated as the top WHL skater by NHL Central Scouting.
The Cougars are now 9-38-2 on the season. The Tigers moved to 30-15-8 and remained in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They are chasing the third-place Brandon Wheat Kings, who beat the Kootenay Ice 6-5 in overtime on Tuesday night.