Life is rarely a holiday when you're a last-place hockey team. Just ask the Prince George Cougars -- even the return of Tyler Halliday failed to restore joy in Mudville.
The team with the worst record in the Western Hockey League offered 1,872 faithful fans at sparsely-populated CN Centre their first post-trade deadline look at a revamped lineup. Having sent their two leading scorers -- Dallas Jackson and Marek Viedensky -- down the transaction highway, the Cougars returned to their losing ways, dumping a 2-1 decision to the Red Deer Rebels.
Halliday had the Cat on his chest for the first time Wednesday since being released in October to free up a 20-year-old roster spot, landing in Kelowna. The Cats got him back Sunday, along with a third-round bantam pick, in exchange for the defenceman Jackson.
Goalie Kyle Jahraus drew the start in goal for Prince George in his first game as a Cougar since being sent north from Seattle. Called into service immediately with incumbents Alex Wright (broken collarbone) and Hudson Stremmel (head injury) not available, Jahraus showed signs he's capable of delivering the Cougars out of the cellar depths, making 28 saves. But his win/loss record will continue to take a beating until his teammates find ways to score more goals.
Jahraus looked bad on the Rebels' second goal, a power-play marker from Andrej Kudrna with nine seconds left in the second period that put the Rebels up 2-0. Kudrna took a long cross-ice feed from Landon Ferraro and Jahraus lost his footing and gave up too much net, a gift the Slovakian import kindly accepted.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins opened the scoring in the first period with the teams playing 4-on-4.
The Cougars had their chances and the effort was never lacking, but trouble and strife has followed this team all season and bad luck continued to plague them. How else do you explain Greg Fraser's stick snapping on him in the middle frame just as he tried to unload from just outside the blue paint? Or newcomer defenceman Petr Senkerik nailing the post squarely after he joined the rush to press for the equalizer seven minutes into the third? No luck. No points.
Picked last week as CHL goalie of the week for the first week of 2010, Red Deer's Darcy Kuemper was rock-steady again. He had no chance on the one shot that beat him, a tip-in from Jaroslav Vlach on a shot from Senkerik that came 3:56 into the third.
The Rebels (23-17-0-4) came into the game tied with Swift Current for the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot. The loss dropped the Cats' record to 9-33-1-1.
KITTY LITTER: The Cougars called up Marcus Beesley from the Cariboo Cougars major midget team to fill in as the back-up. Beesley is one of six Cariboo Cats who will play in the B.C. Major Midget Hockey all-star game Friday in Kelowna... The B.C. Division-leading Vancouver Giants are here Friday and Saturday.