By Ryan McCracken on December 29, 2017.
Some moments transcend generations.
On Feb. 25, the Medicine Hat Tigers created one of those moments when they lifted franchise legend Tom Lysiak’s No. 9 to the rafters at the Canalta Centre, making his just the second number retired in franchise history alongside former linemate Lanny McDonald.
“It was really special to be a part of that night,” said Tigers captain Mark Rassell. “I know we had Lysiak hanging right above our net for the first and third periods and Bullion got the shutout that night and I got my 30th (goal). I attribute that to Lysiak, he was kind of watching over us that night.”
While Lysiak passed away in 2016, his mother, sister, wife and daughter were all on hand — along with 4,489 devout fans decked out in orange and black — to experience the long overdue ceremony.
Lysiak became a legend in the Gas City when he posted 143 points in just 68 games during his sophomore season. All but unstoppable alongside McDonald, Lysiak went on to record 154 points across 67 games before leading the Tigers to their first championship in 1973.
As a passing of the torch, former Tigers winger Zach Fischer skated to meet the family on the ice in a throwback Lysiak jersey. Fischer promptly removed the jersey and gave it to Lysiak’s wife, Melinda. It was the final moment a player would ever wear No. 9 on a Tigers jersey, one that also unveiled Fischer’s new No. 39.
“It was a really special moment for all of us,” said Tigers goaltender Michael Bullion. “I think the class of Fischer surrendering No. 9 and becoming No. 39 for us, just the whole event was really well done.”
Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” rang out through the halls of the Canalta Centre as thousands of wide-eyes fans, young and old, watched the No. 9 banner rise above Michael Bullion and the Tigers’ goal.
“I think getting to come in and be part of a historic night in a new building, and for an event that brought in a lot of fans, I think it really helped solidify our fan support especially going into playoffs and into Game 7 where we were basically a sold-out barn.”
Bullion and the Tigers went on to post a 4-0 shutout victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings to send the fans in attendance home happy. Rassell hit the twine for the 30th time that season, and Bullion kicked aside 26 pucks for a resounding shutout that foreshadowed Medicine Hat’s eventual four-game sweep of the Wheat Kings. Given the electric emotion flowing through the building, Rassell says it was like they knew they couldn’t lose.
“I knew Brandon was a tough team last year but I also knew we were going to win because of how big that night was,” said Rassell. “It was just a special night. We just don’t seem to lose on nights like that.”
Bullion agreed, some nights you just feel like nothing can beat you, and nothing did. Bullion’s unforgettable evening on the ice was punctuated by a shutout-securing save on Reid Duke at the tail end of a 2-on-1 break, driving home the idea that they were unstoppable with Lysiak on their shoulders.
“Getting to play in that, the feeling of the game itself I think we all knew we were going to win,” said Bullion. “Sometimes you feel as a hockey player like everything hits you, and I think that was one of those nights where everything hit me and our guys were really clicking. That whole atmosphere was just amazing.”
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