By RYAN MCCRACKEN on March 14, 2019.
The Medicine Hat Tigers punched their ticket to the post-season on Wednesday night at the Canalta Centre.
Brett Kemp and Ryan Chyzowski both logged four points – including Kemp’s first career hat trick – to power the Tigers to a 7-4 victory over the Red Deer Rebels and cement Medicine Hat’s place in the playoffs for the 16th time in the past 17 seasons.
“This is what we’ve worked for,” said Kemp, who joined the Tigers in a deal with the Edmonton Oil Kings at the trade deadline. “I’ve never been to the playoffs, so it’s going to be a pretty fun experience.”
The victory itself wouldn’t have been enough to propel the Tigers back into the post-season, but the Brandon Wheat Kings dropped a 6-2 contest to the Moose Jaw Warriors Wednesday, allowing Medicine Hat to punch its ticket with two games left on the docket.
“It’s huge. We’re not satisfied though,” said Chyzowski. “It feels good just to know that we’ll be back in the playoffs – it’s a fun time and I think it’s huge for us – but it’s just the beginning.”
Brandon is still hanging onto a sliver of hope, as they can force a Game 69 tiebreaker with the Rebels if they win their final two games – both against the Regina Pats – and Red Deer loses its last two matchups against the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Kootenay Ice in regulation.
“We just have to look forward,” said Rebels alternate captain Brandon Hagel, who had three points in the loss. “I think (the playoff push) is the best part of hockey. We should have taken it a different way, but we’re in the position we are so we just have to keep pushing forward.”
While Medicine Hat can still tie Calgary for third in the Central Division, the Hitmen hold the tiebreaker with a 5-1-0-0 season series victory. As a result, Medicine Hat will earn one of the Eastern Conference’s wild cards and face either the East Division champion Prince Albert Raiders or the eventual Central Division champs – either the Edmonton Oil Kings or Lethbridge – in the first round.
“I think we just want to worry about these last two games, but obviously we want to finish as the higher seed,” said Chyzowski. “I think if it’s anybody in our division we can definitely take them on.”
Jeff De Wit gave Red Deer an early lead in Wednesday’s contest when he picked up a loose puck in the slot and chipped it behind Hat netminder Mads SÃ¸gaard for a power play goal midway through the first, but it only took a few seconds for James Hamblin to strike back.
The Tabby captain broke down the wing and ripped a shot behind Red Deer’s Ethan Anders to even things back up and give SÃ¸gaard some redemption with an assist on the tally.
Red Deer took back the lead 57 seconds into the middle frame when De Wit put a puck on net and Zak Smith shovelled the rebound behind SÃ¸gaard, but this time Chyzowski took it upon himself to erase the deficit less than three minutes later.
The 18-year-old centre parked himself in the slot and got his stick on a shot from Cole Clayton, fooling Anders and shifting momentum in Medicine Hat’s favour.
Tigers vet Ryan Jevne amped up the energy when he dropped the mitts for a spirited bout with Rebels captain Wyatt Johnson – drawing an added minor to Johnson for unsportsmanlike conduct – then Kemp sprung into action with a power play goal.
He then repeated the feat just over two minutes later – going bar-down for his 30th of the year.
“He’s been playing really well,” Hamblin said of Kemp. “He’s just been building and he kind of exploded tonight. We know it’s in him, he’s got a great shot.”
Red Deer’s Josh Tarzwell beat SÃ¸gaard with a snipe off the rush, but the Rebels put themselves back into penalty trouble when Smith chipped one over the glass and the red-hot Tigers power play cashed in again. Chyzowski was credited after gliding into the slot and redirecting a centring pass from Jevne.
Kemp completed the hat trick on a goalmouth scramble eight minutes into the third, chasing Anders from the net in favour of Byron Fancy.
“Every time I’ve had two-goal games I always think about it a little too much, so I just wanted to go out there and play,” said Kemp. “It’s obviously a pretty good feeling, but I’ve got to give the credit to my linemates, they’re unbelievable players and they help me with my game. It was just a good night all around.”
Hagel trimmed the lead to 6-4, but Tigers centre Logan Christensen pushed the game back out of reach on a shot from the low circle six minutes later.
SÃ¸gaard stopped 24 shots to collect the win and push Medicine Hat to 34-26-4-2 while sweeping the season series with Red Deer, 6-0.
Anders took the loss on 23 saves, dropping the Rebels to 33-27-4-2. Fancy stopped three in relief.
The Tigers will be in Cranbrook to take on the Ice for the final time Friday at 7 p.m. – Kootenay is relocating to Winnipeg next season – before heading back to the Canalta Centre to host the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the regular season finale Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
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