By JAMES TUBB on December 19, 2023.
Before disembarking for the holidays, the Medicine Hat Tigers gifted their head coach another milestone for his storied career.
The Tigers’ 7-2 win Saturday night over the Lethbridge Hurricanes at Co-op Place was win No. 450 at the WHL level for head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins.
The 66-year-old isn’t one to reflect or boast upon his own accolades and says the milestone means he’s had a lot of good players and good coaches to work with.
“You never do anything on your own, we really have an outstanding staff, Josh (Maser) and Joe (Frazer) are doing an amazing job, Jayce (Desjardins) is great too on the video, (Matt) Wonger does a good job there too,” Desjardins said. “When you have that staff and I’ve had some outstanding players throughout the years, it’s incredible. The guys who come through this program and their commitment, it’s great to see and this is another good group. They play hard, it’s fun to coach guys like that and that’s how you get the wins.”
In his second stint with the Tigers after returning to the club ahead of the 2019-20 season, Desjardins has recorded 117 of his 450 career wins across the last four seasons. Two seasons impacted by COVID-19 and the Tigers’ 11-win season limited totals that have started to climb with their early success this year.
Desjardins says he appreciates all the players he’s had throughout his 14-year WHL career and their commitment. He’s already looking forward to win No. 451 and seeing how much more this group can develop.
“The character even when we had a really bad season, the character in that team not to quit every night to come like that, that was really hard, probably the hardest we’ve gone through,” Desjardins said. “Now this team, in lots of ways we’ve overachieved the first half, I didn’t expect them to be where they’re at. I thought we’d get better as the year went on but they’re a pretty committed group, a pretty talented group, so it’s fun to be with them.”
The Tigers on the ice were just as happy if not happier about the accomplishment than their bench boss. Forward Andrew Basha, who had four assists in Saturday’s win, was happy to see him reach yet another accomplishment.
“Any achievement he’s gotten since I’ve been here has been unbelievable to see him achieve ,” Basha said. “He’s completely changed me as a player and a person so I appreciate everything and I’m just so happy for him and excited for him.”
Ethan McCallum made 22 saves for the win, his fifth victory on the season. He says Desjardins is the biggest part of the Tigers.
“The way he’s able to bring us together and create those systems that just tear teams apart, it’s unbelievable,” Desjardins said. “He deserves it more than anyone else, 450 wins is a huge number. Now we have to get him more coming down the road here.”
Saturday’s win was a bounce-back for the Tigers coming off a 4-3 loss Friday at Calgary to the Hitmen. Six different Tigers scored Saturday, with Kadon McCann finding the back of the net twice and all of Tyler Mackenzie, Tomas Mrsic, Gavin McKenna, Hunter St. Martin and Shane Smith scoring.
The Tigers and the rest of the WHL are off until Dec. 27 for their holiday break. Medicine Hat remains in second place of the Eastern conference and in first place of the Central division with a record of 21-9-2. Desjardins says Saturday’s win has to motivate them through the break as they gear up for the second half.
“We’re going to have to work hard, the break is a big time for people to gain and we have to make sure we work hard over the break because teams are going to come back ready,” Desjardins said. “We have a really tough second half, we play all our division games, every team in our division is good, so we know that any night we can lose.”