By Sean Rooney on April 19, 2017.
Game 7. Overtime. On the power play.
And yet the Medicine Hat Tigers’ season is over.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes got the last goal in a memorable series Tuesday, captain Tyler Wong burying a shorthanded chance 3:02 into the extra frame of Game 7 of the teams’ WHL Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It’s an unreal feeling to get that goal. I just feel so blessed right now,” said Wong, jubilant in the post-game at Canalta Centre. “I can’t imagine scoring a more meaningful goal.”
In a back-and-forth series, Game 7 was more of the same. With a near-sellout of 5,556 buzzing even before puck drop, there were plenty of twists and turns that had fans for either team either biting their nails or screaming in joy.
“Pandemonium is the word I was thinking of,” said Tigers forward Mark Rassell, who had two goals. “It’s fitting it went to Game 7 overtime.
“It’s tough, our whole team’s devastated.”
Zach Fischer opened the scoring by stealing a puck from goalie Stuart Skinner behind the Lethbridge net and stuffing it in at the 8:47 mark of the first period. But just nine seconds later, Jordy Bellerive went right down the centre of the ice and beat Michael Bullion on the Canes’ second shot of the night to tie it.
Lethbridge got goals from Wong and Egor Babenko before the frame was up, shocking Tigers fans and, admittedly, even the Medicine Hat team.
“That took until the intermission to regroup and refocus,” Tigers coach and general manager Shaun Clouston said of Bellerive’s goal. “It was a letdown.
“But I give our guys credit, they came out in the second and played hard. We had a fantastic second, the third was real close.”
Matt Bradley got the Tigers within one, then Rassell scored two goals off rebounds as the Tigers took control. His first came off a James Hamblin shot that hit the end glass and bounced out just far enough he was able to tip it at a severe angle past Stuart Skinner. He then tied the game a few minutes later off a Chad Butcher shot.
Lethbridge wasn’t ready to call it a season. With 5:50 left, Mason Shaw thought he had scored on a mad scramble, down on the ice and getting enough on the puck that Skinner looked to be behind the line when he saved it. But the call on the ice was no goal, and video review wasn’t conclusive enough to change it.
With 2:43 to go, Dylan Cozens, among three affiliated players forced into action due to Hurricanes injuries, knocked in the game-tying goal after Igor Merezhko’s point shot.
“What a game, what a series,” said Hurricanes coach Brent Kisio, whose team also beat Red Deer in a Game 7 of the opening round. “With our lineup the way it is, everybody had to step up
“Adversity has hit us in a lot of different ways. We found a way again.”
Hat fans thought they were going to get their dream finish when Brennan Riddle was sent off for high-sticking in overtime. Instead, it was Wong — who was double-shifted for most of the series — who ended it.
“It was really close, unfortunately they had a little bit of room at the end on their kill and got a bounce,” said Butcher, who along with Steven Owre and Clayton Kirichenko won’t be back after finishing his overage season. “Wong is a great player, he doesn’t miss from there very often.”
Bullion finished with 25 saves, letting in two of the first three shots on goal for the second straight game but again solid down the stretch. Skinner had 36 saves. Medicine Hat was 1-for-5 on the power play, Rassell’s last goal being the lone marker while Lethbridge went 0-for-3.
The Hurricanes advance to play the top-ranked team in the CHL, the Regina Pats starting Friday at the Brandt Centre. Regina came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Swift Current in their Game 7 Monday night.
An understandably solemn Tigers locker room was left wondering what if, but Clouston made sure to remind the Central Division’s regular season champions they had nothing to hang their heads over.
But it didn’t make the outcome any easier to take.
“To have that many people come, unfortunately the home team didn’t get the extra goal but it was an epic battle,” he said. “It’s going to hurt for a while, for sure.”
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