By Ryan McCracken on May 6, 2021.
The stands may have been empty, but Co-op Place was still filled with emotion on Thursday evening following the final Medicine Hat Tigers game of the season.
Tabby veterans Ryan Chyzowski, Brett Kemp and Cole Clayton closed the book on their Western Hockey League careers in a 3-0 loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings on a night where pride and memories were the only things up for grabs.
“Clayton and Chyzowski were here right from the start of their career. We’ve seen them grow from young guys to men,” Tigers head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins said in a post-game Zoom conference.
“We’ve seen them come from guys that just got a little bit of ice time to be guys that carried us the whole time. I think the organization is really proud of them and what they’ve done. Kemp came in a little later, but those guys are outstanding. They carried us this year. Our leadership was great, I thought they were as good (a group of) 20s as there was in the league. I know those guys were proud to be Tigers, it’s a great organization. It was a tough year, but we got a lot out of the year.”
With the loss, Medicine Hat closes out the pandemic-shortened season with a 14-8-0-1 record — 12 points behind the Central Division champion Oil Kings (20-2-0-1) — for second in the division. Edmonton swept the season series 6-0.
The Tigers managed to get a more than a dozen rookies onto the ice over the course of the 23-game season, but Desjardins says they’ll need to continue their development in the summer if they hope to take the Central crown from Edmonton next year.
“Those rookies got experience but they’re going to have to be better if we’re going to win. We pushed hard against Edmonton every time, we just couldn’t beat them. If we don’t have big off-seasons and train we won’t beat them next year either. The guys know they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them,” said Desjardins.
“But saying that, we certainly have an exciting group. I was really impressed with Dezainde tonight, he played really hard. Smith came in and hadn’t played before, and Boehm, that line was good. That’s really promising when you can have a line come in like that.”
Thursday’s finale opened with some back-and-forth action before Oil Kings captain Scott Atkinson broke the stalemate with a spin-around wrister from the slot halfway through the first.
Edmonton nearly took over a 2-0 lead in the final second of the first period, but a video review overturned the call on the ice and Medicine Hat entered the second down by just one.
The two-goal lead ultimately came back to count, however, as Logan Dowhaniuk snapped one past Garin Bjorklund on a power play in the dying minutes of the second.
Medicine Hat pressed for a way back into the game in the third, but they were unable to sneak anything past Oil Kings goaltender Sebastian Cossa — who stopped all 29 shots he faced for the season-ending shutout.
Kaid Oliver added an empty-netter in the final minute of regulation.
Bjorklund logged 25 saves in the loss.
The Tigers now enter the off-season with five impending overagers on the roster. Forwards Lukas Svejkovsky, Corson Hopwo and Nick McCarry, and defencemen Eric Van Impe and Daniel Baker will all enter their final season of WHL eligibility in the fall.
Medicine Hat reached the conclusion of its 23-game development season without registering a single positive case of COVID-19. Desjardins noted it was a combined effort that took dedication from players, staff and billets alike.
“To come through all this COVID stuff with no positive tests, it’s really quite incredible,” said Desjardins. “It says a lot about the guys. It says lots about the billets too, and how they took care of themselves so we could stay healthy. It was a really great effort.”