By JAMES TUBB on January 30, 2024.
“If you believe in yourself, with a tiny pinch of magic, all your dreams can come true.”
That inspiring quote may have came from SpongeBob Squarepants but it was the Medicine Hat Tigers who brought it to life this weekend.
After a 6-5 shootout loss Friday night at Moose Jaw, the Tigers led once again before falling behind the Warriors 3-2 after 40 minutes. A three-goal third period put a stamp on a 5-3 win and re-established a belief the Tigers have had all season, they can beat anyone.
Timely saves from Ethan McCallum, continuation of the Gavin McKenna magic and a relentless drive throughout the lineup propelled the shorthanded Tigers over the loaded Warriors, earning a three-point weekend.
McKenna, who had a goal and three assists Saturday after putting up two goals and an assist Friday, says they have the tightest room in the league and want to win more for one another than themselves.
“It’s a family in there and every guy is sticking up for each other,” McKenna said. “We have guys like (Nate) Corbet and (Rhett) Parsons who are fighting to give us energy when we need it. We have guys who are just battling all throughout games. It’s been an unreal job by our team.”
Saturday night the Tigers donned blue and yellow SpongeBob Squarepants jerseys as part of Nickelodeon Night for Children’s Miracle Network. Those jerseys are available for auction with a link on the Tigers website, with proceeds going to the Children’s Miracle Network.
The Tigers were without forward Marcus Pacheco for the third straight game, and Cayden Lindstrom’s hand injury left them with nine natural forwards and eight defenceman, Corbet playing forward to make it 10 and seven. They haven’t withered in games with short lines but have excelled. Shorter shifts lead to more waves of attack and they’re winning games they maybe shouldn’t.
Head coach Willie Desjardins says the group wins games that are hard to win because there is a strong belief within the group.
“It shows an awful lot about our team because there’s games you should win and you do win but we’ve won some games where we’ve been short or we’re not on top of our game,” Desjardins said. “There’s a pretty good belief in the group and that’s special. You don’t get that all the time. These guys work hard.”
Hunter St. Martin had a goal with two assists, Oasiz Wiesblatt added a goal and an assist and both Vasyl Spilka and Tomas Mrsic found the back of the net with the latter scoring the game winner. McCallum made 27 saves, out-duelling his former teammate in Evan May who made his return to Co-op Place and made 14 saves in the loss.
McCallum says it was different seeing May in the red and black and wishes him the best the rest of the season. Saturday’s win was his ninth of the season and, like the eight previous, he’s not looking to reflect on it longer than he needs to.
“It could act as a piece of confidence but really for me, it’s just another game and I’m learning from it,” McCallum said. “There’s still points in that game where I can take and learn and be better at, which is what I’m looking forward to most come this next week of practice. So I’m better prepared for next week’s games.”
McCallum’s performance was predated by Zach Zahara making 49 saves in Friday’s loss. Desjardins says they don’t win Saturday without McCallum and aren’t able to pick up a point Friday without Zahara.
“When it was 3-2 (Saturday) and they had two breakaways, those two saves, if they score one of those the game is probably over,” Desjardins said. “It was a great job with both young goalies playing.”
The Tigers have a two-game week ahead with both contests on the road. They’re at Saskatoon on Friday to face the WHL-leading Blades before heading to Prince Albert on Saturday to battle the Raiders, the first time this season they’ve played either team on the road.
After the gutsy win Saturday and picking up a point Friday, the Tigers remain in second place in the Eastern conference and atop the Central division with a record of 28-14-3-1. They lead the Red Deer Rebels in the division by one point, which could be made up or surpassed when Red Deer faces Prince Albert on Wednesday.
With the weekend behind them and their next slate of opponents ahead, the only thing they can focus on, according to McCallum, is getting better each day.
“Just making sure we’re having really good practices because practices translate to games, and we’ve had that in the past, we found out our worst games have been from bad practices leading up to those games,” McCallum said. “So just making sure we’re going 100 per cent in practices and getting prepared because those two teams right now are on a bit of roll as well. So it’ll be tough to get four points on the weekend but we have to go out and get it.”