By Ryan McCracken on December 31, 2018.
Garin Bjorklund turned a dream into a reality on Saturday night at the Canalta Centre.
The 16-year-old netminder stopped 21 shots to lead his Medicine Hat Tigers to a 4-2 victory over the Victoria Royals in his Western Hockey League debut after joining up with the club in the absence of Danish netminder Mads Søgaard.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Bjorklund, who was mobbed by his teammates after locking down the victory. “You kind of get chills a little bit É It’s exciting getting the first one under my belt and hopefully I’ll play here next year.”
James Hamblin gave the Tigers an early lead in highlight reel fashion. The Hat captain broke down the wing and beat Royals goaltender Griffen Outhouse with a backhand under the crossbar to reach the 20-goal plateau for the third consecutive season.
“It’s exciting, but in the meantime I’ll focus on the next one,” Hamblin said of reaching the milestone. “We’re just playing with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm.”
Victoria was given a late chance to even things up when the Tigers were caught with too many men on the ice, but Bjorklund stopped a slew of chances on the advantage to give Medicine Hat an edge at the break.
“We’ve had way more games where we started the way we want to start — with some speed and some energy, playing together, supporting the puck, racing back and defending hard so we can get some quick exits,” said Tigers head coach Shaun Clouston. “It takes some preparation. You can’t just wander into a game and hope that it goes well, you have to really be prepared and I think the guys have figured some things out. Hopefully it can continue.”
The Royals battled back into the conversation midway through the second period when Ty Yoder batted a cross-crease feed from Brandon Cutler past Bjorklund to knot things up on Victoria’s 10th shot of the contest.
Hamblin went back to work later in the frame after Royals Igor Martynov and Mitchell Prowse committed a pair of minor penalties 13 seconds apart — putting the Tigers onto an extended two-man advantage and allowing Hamblin to notch his second two-goal game in as many nights by beating Outhouse from the low circle.
Yoder kept the back-and-forth trend going early in the third period when he deflected a puck past Bjorklund while skating through the slot — doubling his goal production for the season in one night.
“Before the break I finally got the monkey off my back and coming back from Christmas I feel like things are finally rolling,” said Yoder, adding his team needed a better start. “It’s all preparation before the game. We weren’t ready and we have to be better.”
Tigers centre Ryan Chyzowski stole back the lead a few minutes later by forcing a turnover on the forecheck and batting the puck past Outhouse for his 13th goal of the year and third point of the night.
The Royals managed to respond with some sustained pressure in the Hat end, but Bjorklund kept the paddle down to secure the victory and snap Victoria’s three-game winning streak.
“It’s very exciting. It’s exciting for the guys, they were pulling for him,” said Clouston. “I thought as the game went on he looked more and more confident. They put some pressure on us and he had to make some saves down the stretch that were big saves.”
Ryan Jevne iced the game with an unassisted empty-netter in the final minute.
Outhouse settled for the loss on 26 saves, dropping Victoria to 17-14-1-0 on the season.
Medicine Hat improved to 19-15-1-2 with the win.
Bjorklund will remain with the Tigers for the next four games while Søgaard competes with Denmark at the IIHF World Junior Championship.