By JAMES TUBB on December 13, 2023.
Jack Kachkowski was able to experience his WHL debut in front of friends and family and in the building his Western league dream began.
The 16-year-old Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman suited up for his first game with the club Saturday in a 3-2 road win over the Edmonton Oil Kings. That debut came two days after the St. Albert product signed with the Tigers.
Kachkowski says he almost fell while taking his rookie lap but enjoyed the night as a whole.
“It was an unreal experience, having all my family in the crowd and just to play at that rink that I’ve grown up watching the Oilers and the Oil Kings play in was special,” Kachkowski said.
“I just saw my family out there and (was) maybe a bit less nervous, and then they turned the lights on mid-lap and I almost fell, which is kind of funny. But it was just an unreal experience.”
Kachkowski, selected 89th overall by the Tigers in 2022, played 12 games with the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits before joining the Tigers. He says the speed differences between the AJHL and WHL are something he will have to adapt to, not to mention living in a new city. Kachkowski also took note of how quickly momentum can swing in the WHL.
“Especially playing at a rink like Rogers (Place), you make one mistake and the crowd’s really getting into it, or you make one good play and you can get the crowd out of the game,” Kachkowski said.
Associate coach Joe Frazer, who works on the defence side of the bench during games, says he liked Kachkowski in his debut and thought he got better as the game went on.
“Obviously there’s going to be some nerves in your first game, and being in Rogers Place it’s always nerve wracking your first time, but I thought he adjusted well,” Frazer said. “Once he gets a few practices under his belt and knows how we want to play, he’ll just continue to grow and get better.”
Kachkowski says he’s looking forward to his next one now that the first-game jitters are out of the way. He’ll have plenty of opportunities this week as the Tigers have three contests heading into the holiday break.
They’re down Highway 3 tonight taking on the Lethbridge Hurricanes before heading to Calgary on Friday to battle the Hitmen. Their final game before disbanding for the break is Saturday at Co-op Place against the Hurricanes.
Frazer says they have to remain focused for the week ahead and that it starts with their leadership group.
“We have great leaders who will keep us focused and on track, and we know these three games are massive for the end of the year,” Frazer said. “The break is going to come regardless if you play well or you don’t play well. So you might as well play well and then you’ll have your break on Sunday. Let’s focus day by day.”
Captain Tyler Mackenzie says staying focused as the break looms is something they spoke about in early December and plan to readdress before battling the ‘Canes tonight.
“The Christmas break, lots of guys look forward to it and everyone’s kind of guilty of saying how they want to get home for Christmas break and everyone wants to see friends,” MacKenzie said. “But if you can have the mindset of just ‘get through these three games, play our game and focus,’ that’s going to go a long ways. Three wins this week can be the difference of a great first half and a good first half. So for us, it’s just about focusing on taking each day at a time, each game at a time.”
The Tigers will likely be without goaltender Evan May for the final week as the 19-year-old is deemed day-to-day after suffering an injury in practice last week. Frazer says it provides an opportunity for 18-year-old Zach Zahara and 17-year-old Ethan McCallum to get into more games.