February 22nd, 2024

Tigers show early maturity in return to holidays

By JAMES TUBB on December 29, 2023.


The Medicine Hat Tigers quickly shook off the holiday rust.

The Tigers returned from their holiday break with a 4-2 win Wednesday at Red Deer over the Rebels. Medicine Hat was outshot 34-19 in the win, with Zach Zahara making 32 saves to keep them in the game.

Head coach Willie Desjardins says it was a guty effort by his group and he liked how they performed while missing Cayden Lindstrom and Tomas Mrsic.

“We’re short a couple of guys, Red Deer is playing well and are heavy team, they’re good at home,” Desjardins said. “There’s lots of things we’ve worked at over last year, our goaltending was really good, our special teams were great. Those are things that make such a difference. We got a big power play goal in the third and then had a good kill late, those are huge. It was just a hard game, it was a tough game and the boys found a way to win.”

Desjardins said both Lindstrom (upper body) and Mrsic (illness) were day-to-day heading into the weekend and didn’t see any long-term concern with either player. Goaltender Evan May is off the injured list but is considered day to day, Desjardins says, as he works his way back to game speed.

The Tigers were one for two on their power play against Red Deer with the penalty kill nullifying five of the six Red Deer power plays. Oasiz Wiesblatt had the game-winning goal on the power play, his 11th marker of the season and sixth game winner.

Desjardins says they had good games up and down the lineup, citing his younger players who have worked their way into bigger roles.

“A guy like Nate Corbet, he just worked so hard and he doesn’t get an awful lot but boy he works hard and gives you a lot of energy,” Desjardins said. “A lot of those guys, Brett Calhoon came back in and Hayden Harsanyi was really good last night, like really good.”

Harsanyi scored the empty netter for the Tigers after killing off a late delay of game penalty. Desjardins recognized what it means having a 16-year-old utilized in a penalty kill that late in the game and how Harsanyi has risen to the occasion.

“It’s huge, he ended up getting a goal off it and even Matt Paranych coming out of the box, it was unbelievable how hard he came in and went right to the right spot,” Desjardins said. “For two 16-year-olds to be out in that situation, it says an awful lot, both guys deserve it. They’ve risen in the lineup and they deserve those chances. It’s not that you’re giving them stuff, they created the opportunity.”

Harsanyi says he takes pride in the work he’s put in during practice and the trust the coaches have in him. He focuses on playing with confidence and knowing what needs to be done, something he says the team as a whole knew throughout the back-and-forth game.

“Everyone understood, that’s just part of becoming a championship team, people are just starting to understand and not having to be told the things we have to do, we just go out there and do it,” Harsanyi said. ‘That was a huge part of the win Wednesday.”

Zahara’s standing tall in net was supplemented by defenceman Dru Krebs’ ability to pull the puck off the goal line, a non-statistical action he performed twice while Medicine Hat was in the lead.

Krebs, who opened the scoring with his second of the year, says the feeling of playing goaltender with a stick isn’t quite there with scoring the other way.

“They feel good but nothing is quite like scoring a goal, especially when you don’t get too many,” Krebs said. “It’s always good to help on both ends of the ice.”

The 20-year-old Okotoks product says he isn’t too upset with his limited scoring, with his two goals and 14 points in 33 games. Krebs says he’s happy with wins and is focused on getting those in his final WHL season, knowing the offence will either come or it won’t.

The Tigers head into another divisional weekend, hosting the Swift Current Broncos tonight and the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday. It’s the type of weekend Krebs says they circle on the calendar.

“It’s huge, it’s divisional and we’re fighting for winning the conference and the division, so these wins are huge and these games are huge,” Krebs said. “To get these four points that are coming up is massive for our team.”

Desjardins wasn’t ready to entertain the idea of the Tigers grabbing all four points this weekend and recording a six-point week. He says the WHL’s Central division is a tough one and says they will need to be at their best if they want one or two points.

“There’s nothing easy about our side, it’s going to be a battle,” Desjardins said. “We have to make sure we’re ready every night because every night we’re going to get pushed and there isn’t a big difference in the teams – all the teams on this side are close.

“There’s some teams who have added and are going to be better maybe and those teams that have added, we have to find a way to play with them. Just because they added doesn’t mean we don’t expect to find a way to win, but it’ll be a challenge. If we don’t play with structure and out work teams, then we won’t beat them.”

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