By Sean Rooney on April 21, 2017.
It was a night for reflection, and a night for fun for members of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Two nights after their season came to an end, the team looked back on a historic campaign at their awards banquet before breaking to go and party the night away.
Chad Butcher, named the team’s MVP after sharing the award last year, was among those feted by fellow players, coaches, staff and supporters at the Medicine Hat Lodge. As a rare player to spend his entire five-year major-junior career with one team, the Kamloops native admitted the wound from Tuesday’s Game 7 loss was still fresh, but knows he’ll be proud of what he accomplished with the team.
“We’ve had some time to soak it in… but it’s always tough saying goodbye to everybody,” said Butcher, also the Medicine Hat News Top Scorer (103 points) and the Guttormson and Company Playoff MVP which he shared with John Dahlstrom (each with 13 points). “Countless memories I’ve made in this town. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.
“It was a lot of fun, we had a great season.”
Certainly, much can be made of what the team did accomplish, even if, as captain Clayton Kirichenko said in his speech, they fell short of their ultimate goal. A 51-20-1-0 record, Central Division title and inches from the WHL’s Eastern Conference finals, all on the heels of missing the post-season a year ago.
Head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston started with the momentum built at the end of the prior season in his speech, noting “you surprised everybody again” with a desire to be back in the playoff picture.
“It was really evident at the start of the season… you were a hungry group,” said Clouston.
The hunger no doubt burns for whatever’s ahead and the biggest question facing overage graduates Butcher, Kirichenko and Steven Owre afterwards was what’s next. Butcher, for one, hinted that a pro hockey career might be in the offing while Kirichenko might be leaning more towards university. Owre talked about the 25-hour drive home to California.
Dahlstrom, a Chicago Blackhawks draftee who will be an overager this fall, was more coy about his plans.
“For me it’s just been hanging around with buddies around here,” he said. “This is not where we wanted to be, we wanted to keep playing but it’s a nice evening here to say goodbye to each other.”
Fellow 19-year-old Mark Rassell heard his name called most often Thursday, as recipient of awards for top goal scorer (36), three stars, co-winner for community service with Nick Schneider and co-most improved player with Zach Fischer.
Kirichenko was the Gerard Moyer Memorial team leadership winner and Cliff Bast Memorial top defenceman, and made sure to thank as many people as he could for all the support he got both on and off the ice.
Knowing his time in the WHL is up also had him thinking of what he’ll miss.
“Every day, coming to the rink. The jokes, the laughter, all the pranks. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling of coming to the rink every day and seeing the boys,” he said.
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