July 22nd, 2024

Tigers showcase more resiliency with shorthanded win

By JAMES TUBB on January 18, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB The Medicine Hat Tigers greet goaltender Zach Zahara after their 5-2 win Tuesday night at Co-op Place over the Swift Current Broncos.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

The Medicine Hat Tigers were on the penalty kill from puck drop to the final buzzer Tuesday night.

A long-term injury to Cayden Lindstrom, Andrew Basha scratched day-to-day and a late scratch to Tomas Mrsic due to food poisoning left the Tigers with 17 skaters, only nine natural forwards, ahead of their contest against the loaded-up Swift Current Broncos.

Medicine Hat was 1-3 this season against the Broncos coming into the game, before they added NHL prospect forward Conor Geekie, defenceman Tyson Galloway and Jakub Dvorak.

An early 2-0 deficit could have sank the shorthanded Tigers, but instead they pulled together and rattled off five unanswered goals for a 5-2 win.

It’s a response that didn’t surprise forward Hunter St. Martin, who had two goals Tuesday, but showcases their drive for success.

“It’s a four-point win, the Swift rivalry, they’re coming for us in the Central and it’s a tight race, every division game matters most,” St. Martin said. “Most importantly, we want to win the Central division, so going down 2-0 it just shows we are a resilient team and we’re going to work our asses off, and we get the two points and now we’re working.

“We’re always wanting to get better and we don’t take anything (for granted), we don’t get too high. We’re setting the standard. It’s good for the group while shorthanded to get the character win.”

There were moments throughout the contest the Tigers, who were running three set forward lines and mixing through their defence pairings, could have faltered and succumbed to the short bench.

Late in the second period, while leading 4-2, Medicine Hat found themselves on a minute-long five-on-three penalty kill with 2:08 left in the period. They weathered the storm and killed off both penalties, maintaining momentum and sparking more energy from the 2,650 fans in attendance than any of their goals.

That success came from the Tigers not sitting back and hoping to hold off the Broncos but using speed and pushing back against their full-strength opponents. It’s a style of play and effort associate coach Joe Frazer says further shows they can play with and beat anyone in the WHL.

“When we play our brand of hockey that’s fast, it’s up tempo, it’s relentless, a group of five together, when we play that way we can play with anybody,” Frazer said. “Zach (Zahara) was great tonight again, our goaltending is great and has given us a chance to win every night. Special teams have been really good.

“When we’re on our game, it’s relentless and it’s tough to play against.”

Zahara made 19 saves for his 11th win of the season. The shorthanded lineup in front of him changed nothing to his approach when the puck dropped, and he says after falling down 2-0 it was about resetting and getting back to the game.

“It just means you have to be extra crispy and dialled throughout the game because you might not have the right support like you usually do,” Zahara said. “Matt (Wong) and I talked in the intermission and said, ‘It’s a 40-minute game now, it’s 0-0.’ So it was just about resetting.”

Frazer noticed the Tigers’ jump after the second media timeout when they were trailing 2-0. He says there was talk on the bench about not sitting back and hoping they could win. He says that’s when they started getting more aggressive and playing more as a group of five.

“We started to go on the offence, our defence gaps got tighter and our group of five was better,” Frazer said. “The first 10 to 15 minutes we were backed off a little bit and then I thought we got our legs going and started to pressure and attack. That was what we had to do. We’re a speed team and we have to use it. We only had three lines tonight so the only way we were going to win was being sure our shifts were short, so it was great to see everybody buying into the short shifts so we could keep that pace going all night.”

Oasiz Wiesblatt scored a power play goal in the second period, drawing the penalty himself when Swift goaltender Reid Dyck slashed him in the back of the leg. He added an assist to his game total as well, his goal was his 17th of the season and the eventual game winner, giving him a league-leading ninth game winner on the year.

Gavin McKenna scored later in the second, finishing his night with the goal and two assists, and Kadon McCann rounded out the night’s scoring with an early third period goal to cement the 5-2 win.

While they performed shorthanded Tuesday, reinforcements are on the way for the Tigers. Mrsic and Basha are expected to play in Friday’s home game against the Red Deer Rebels, the first of a three-in-three for Medicine Hat. Those two returning further adds confidence to the group, St. Martin says.

“Mrsic is a huge part, Basha is a huge part, every single guy is a huge part of our group, so those adds are just huge going into the weekend for us,” St. Martin said.

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