The Brandon Wheat Kings were left stewing about the ones that got away on Wednesday night.
The line of Curtis Valk, Cole Sanford and Trevor Cox provided all of Medicine Hat’s offence as the Tigers posted a 3-2 Western Hockey League victory over the Wheat Kings at Westman Place. As good as that line was, the Wheat Kings had chances of their own to change their fate, but were stopped on a penalty shot and a breakaway in the second period, while failing to score on a pair of late power plays.
"Their top line was going tonight for them," said Jayce Hawryluk, who scored one of the Brandon goals. "They were putting the puck in the net and they were generating chances. I think they capitalized on a couple turnovers here and there on our part and we didn’t capitalize on our chances, and that was the difference in the game."
Richard Nejezchleb also scored for the Wheat Kings (27-20-5-1), who remain tied with the Swift Current Broncos for first place in the East Division, with Brandon down to one game in hand.
Cox scored twice and Sanford had a goal and two assists as the Tigers (31-19-3-0) gained a five-point edge over the Wheat Kings in the Eastern Conference standings, although Brandon is still seeded second by virtue of being a division leader.
"We wanted to beat this team to show that we are better than them because now it’s pretty tight in the standings," said Nejezchleb, whose team hosts the Broncos on Friday (7:30 p.m., Westman Place). "It was a big four-point game for us but we didn’t find a way to win."
The Wheat Kings started well and spent a lot of time in the Tigers’ end in the opening minutes, but didn’t turn that into any shots on net, with the closest being a Tyler Coulter snapshot that hit the post. Shortly after that, Sanford jumped on a turnover right after an offensive-zone faceoff and opened the scoring.
Brandon got that back on a power-play rush. Nejezchleb dished the puck to Rihards Bukarts and went hard to the net, receiving a return pass from his fellow import and burying his team-best 26th goal of the season.
Medicine Hat got its lead back midway through the second period as Valk, who had two assists, lost the puck while heading for the net, but Cox picked it up and scored top-shelf over Wheat Kings goalie Jordan Papirny. The goal came after a Brandon turnover in the neutral zone and Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said it was a key marker that came when his team had lost some of its spark from the first period.
"In a game like that you need to have some patience and you need to play intelligently, and I don’t think we did a good enough job in either of those areas in tonight’s game," he said.
Tigers goalie Marek Langhamer, who stopped a Nejezchleb breakaway early in the period, came up big again late in the middle frame, denying Ryley Lindgren on a penalty shot. Langhamer made some big saves, but faced only 23 shots — six fewer than Papirny —and the Wheat Kings felt they should have done more to create scoring chances.
"I think that the one area of our game that wasn’t good enough was managing the puck through the neutral zone," McCrimmon said. "We turned too many pucks over. It only directly resulted in the second goal, but it kept us from playing offence. … We didn’t generate enough shots on goal or scoring chances in the game."
Cox added to the lead, scoring on a one-timer only 19 seconds into the third period. That goal proved to be vital as Hawryluk later converted a Lindgren feed to get the Wheat Kings back within one, giving Brandon a chance for a late push that ultimately fell short in part due to missed opportunities on late power plays. Brandon finished the game 1-for-4 with the man advantage, while the Medicine Hat was 0-for-2.
ONE-TIMERS: Nejezchleb’s first-period marker snapped a six-game goalless drought … Valk is on a 12-game point-scoring streak, while Bukarts extended his streak to seven games …Attendance was a season-low 2,825 … Wheat Kings C John Quenneville (upper body, day-to-day) missed his sixth straight game, while D Rene Hunter (sick) and LW Brett Kitt were also scratched … The Tigers played without LW Hunter Shinkaruk, who is out for the season after hip surgery.