By RYAN MCCRACKEN on February 19, 2021.
The Medicine Hat Tigers have released goaltender Evan Fradette and overage forward Cyle McNabb, trimming the lineup down to 23 players with one week left before the puck drops on the Western Hockey League’s 24-game season.
As a result of the cuts, Ryan Chyzowski, Brett Kemp and Cole Clayton will fill Medicine Hat’s three overage slots this season, while Beckett Langkow will serve as backup goaltender to Garin Bjorklund when the Tigers open the campaign against the Rebels in Red Deer on Feb. 26.
Bjorklund takes command of the crease after posting an .897 save percentage last season, then getting drafted in the sixth round by the Washington Capitals.
“It’s due time for him,” said Tigers director of player personnel Bobby Fox. “He’s matured in his game, he’s confident in his abilities and he’s worked really hard coming into this season.”
Despite sharing the crease with second-round Ottawa Senators draft pick Mads SÃ¸gaard last season, Bjorklund still played in 28 of his team’s 63 games, logging a 20-5-1-0 record. SÃ¸gaard is currently playing back in his home country of Denmark with the Esbjerg Energy, leaving Bjorklund as the leader between the pipes this year.
“I’m definitely excited for it and ready to take on that role,” said Bjorklund. “Back with Mads last year, I learned a lot from him, so now just being able to bring my confidence onto the ice and own that crease is definitely really important.”
On top of cancelling last season and delaying this one for more than five months, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented new NHL draft picks like Bjorklund from participating at in-person development camps. Thankfully, says Bjorklund, he’s still been able to foster a relationship with the Capitals through Zoom meetings with staff.
“We went over a lot of video from last year,” he said. “Just to be able to talk to them and hear their voices and what their tips are for me, and to be able to have a little bit of a relationship with them is definitely nice.”
Despite entering the season as a draft pick as opposed to chasing one, the 18-year-old Grande Prairie product says it doesn’t change his mindset too much – he’s simply replaced one milestone goal with another.
“Right now, my goal is to sign a pro contract and I’m going to work my bag off every day to fulfill that goal,” said Bjorklund. “Last year my goal was to get drafted, so it kind of goes hand in hand – still working hard every day to follow your dreams.”
Bjorklund added he’s been getting along well with his new goaltending partner in Langkow. The Vergreville product posted a .934 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against average over 20 games with the Alberta Midget Hockey League’s Fort Saskatchewan Rangers last season, and Bjorklund says he’s already adapting well in camp.
“Beckett’s a great kid. I try to push him and he tries to push me, so it’s good,” said Bjorklund. “We kind of have that battle and compete against one another, and it’s good that we’re friends on and off the ice. To have a close relationship with your goalie partner is really important.”