By Ryan McCracken on March 30, 2017.
Scoring depth has been a strong suit for the Medicine Hat Tigers all season long, and that hasn’t changed with the onset of the post-season.
Ten Tigers have found the net for a total of 21 goals in their series sweep over the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL’s Eastern Conference quarter-finals, with members of all four forward lines and two defensive pairings lighting the lamp across the four games.
“It’s a special quality of our team,” said Tigers defenceman David Quenneville, who leads his team with eight points in the series. “We’ve been really good with it all year and I think that’s why we’re in the position we’re in. Four lines contribute consistently the whole year and I think that’s a really special quality — when you can have your young guys and your energy line contributing and still have your top guys contributing every night against tough defences.”
Mark Rassell led Medicine Hat with four goals through the opening series —highlighted with a hat trick in Game 1’s 7-2 blowout —while Zach Fischer, John Dahlstrom, David Quenneville and Clayton Kirichenko have all netted three. Brandon, meanwhile, only generated goals from six players in the series — with Reid Duke leading the pack at three in the four games.
Medicine Hat finished the regular season with five players sitting at or above the 30-goal mark, and 10 with at least 20 to their credit. Meanwhile 10 skaters registered at least 50 points and seven more closed out the regular season with at least — with overage forward Chad Butcher leading the team at 103.
While the Wheat Kings closed out their 72-game docket with a trio of 30-goal scorers in Duke, Ty Lewis and Tyler Coulter; only five skaters finished the year with 20 or more.
“It’s kind of been a common theme of ours all year,” said Butcher, who posted a goal and five assists through the series. “We’ve got four lines that can score. That speaks to our depth and we’re really happy with that.”
But scoring prowess doesn’t account for much if you don’t have sound goaltending, and the Tigers have had that in spades to start the playoffs. Michael Bullion has proven there’s still plenty left in the pages of his storybook season with a trio of stellar outings to start the series. The 19-year-old Alaskan posted a .914 save percentage while picking up the first four playoff wins of his career after finishing a turnaround regular season at .897.
“He’s been great for us. He’s playing with lots of confidence and the guys are playing hard in front of him. He’s competing but he’s keeping it under control. He’s doing a real good job,” said Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston. “In Game 2 we didn’t start great and they had two or three really quality chances that kind of went across the grain and he was able to get over and make the save.”
Bullion has already added a healthy handful of highlight reel saves to his resume since the puck dropped on the playoffs, and Quenneville says each sprawling stop sends the Tigers into a frenzy.
“He’s made some big saves for us which allow us a little bit of extra confidence, just knowing he’s going to be back there to make a huge stop for us. That’s going to lead to a goal or two coming from the offence. In that sense it’s really exciting having a guy back there with that kind of confidence,” said Quenneville. “He’s been extremely consistent for us. When we’ve needed him to be solid he’s been really solid.”