By Ryan McCracken on October 14, 2016.
For the second game in a row, Medicine Hat Tigers forward Caleb Fantillo will be missing from action at the Canalta Centre, and this time he won’t be watching from the sidelines.
After the Coquitlam, B.C. native missed Tuesday’s contest against the Victoria Royals as a healthy scratch, Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston completed a deal with Saskatoon Blades that he says both eased some roster tension and provided a better chance for Fantillo to compete full-time in the WHL.
“It was a situation with our depth up front, where there wasn’t going to be a permanent spot in the lineup early on in the season for Caleb,” said Clouston, whose Tigers received a sixth round pick in the 2019 WHL bantam draft in exchange for Fantillo. “Just with the roster and commitment we want to make with some of our younger players we think this is a real good situation for both sides. It gets our roster to a more manageable number and gives Caleb an opportunity to have a fresh start and get some ice time there.”
While he will be forced to uproot his life in the Gas City and head out to Saskatoon, Fantillo says he’s truly excited for the chance to provide a physical role up front with the Blades.
“Everything happens for a reason so I’m pretty excited for it,” said Fantillo, who posted 12 points in 63 games with the Tigers last season and added two assists in his first five games this year. “I know they’re kind of lacking some grittiness right now. They’ve got a young group, I believe, so I just want to bring my gritty play to them and put the puck in the net as well. I feel like I’m a good fit for that team.”
He isn’t the only one with that feeling, as Blades general manager Colin Priestner points out Fantillo comes with a few desirable traits from his gritty approach, his ability to thrive on the right side and even his age bracket.
“The 1998 group is one we’ve been a little bit light at. That was the year of the Memorial Cup so that draft was a bit light in terms of picks for the Blades,” said Priestner. “He hasn’t put up huge numbers or anything in the last year with Medicine Hat, but I think there’s some potential there offensively.”
Fantillo added it will surely be difficult to part ways with his Tiger teammates, as many entered the league last year as rookies and forged strong bonds on and off the ice. Thankfully, he’ll be making his return in just a few weeks when the Blades come back to town on Nov. 12.
“The first thing I did when I got traded, I looked when they play Medicine Hat next. That’s going to be an exciting game, being back in the Canalta Centre and being on the other side of things,” he said. “I’m going to miss all my teammates so much. The group of guys we had in the room is one the closest groups I’ve ever been part of. Leaving those guys is one of the hardest things I’ll have to do but I know we’ll all stay in touch.”
Priestner added Fantillo will likely get a chance to make an immediate impact with Saskatoon, as injuries have created some vacancies up front.
While the return won’t make an impact for a few years, Clouston says any guaranteed draft pick is promising.
“It’s definitely an asset regardless of what year it is … They didn’t want to give something up for 2017 and we’ve got a full deck plus an extra fifth in 2017 so we feel real comfortable with what we’ve got moving forward there,” said Clouston, adding the Tigers currently have a pick in 2018’s first round, three more in the second and another two in the third. “It’s a real good draft for us as far as draft picks with six picks in the first three rounds.”