By JAMES TUBB on February 9, 2024.
The Medicine Hat Tigers have two games and four important points ahead of them this weekend.
The Tigers have two Central division matchups this weekend, on the road tonight against the Calgary Hitmen before hosting the Red Deer Rebels on Saturday.
They’re only a week removed from going pointless last weekend on their Saskatchewan road trip, falling 5-2 to the Saskatoon Blades on Feb. 2 and 3-2 to the Prince Albert Raiders on Feb. 3. The two-game slide was snapped at Co-op Place with a 5-2 win Tuesday over the Regina Pats.
Head coach Willie Desjardins says it’s an important weekend for his group and they’ll have to be their best.
“There’s so many good teams right now, it’s hard to get points,” Desjardins said. “Going into Calgary is going to be a really hard game, then you have Red Deer the next day. Those two are tough, tough games. If we’re not playing well as a group with really good structure and lots of hard work, then we won’t get points. We have to have that for both games.”
Points are the name of the game moving forward for the Tigers as they look to clinch their eighth Central division title and first since the 2017-18 season.
It’s also a point of emphasis for the Hitmen who sit on the outside of the playoff circle by one point heading into the contest. They trail the Prince Albert Raiders who sit eighth in the East conference with 50 points in 51 games. Calgary has three fewer games played than P.A. and one less than the Lethbridge Hurricanes who occupy seventh place with 51 points.
It’s a position ever so similar to the Tigers of last year, who battled for a playoff spot the entirety of the second half before clinching a spot in the postseason dance with a Game 68 win. Associate coach Joe Frazer recognizes the hunger Calgary has.
“It’s a playoff weekend, we have Calgary who’s fighting for that last spot, we were in their position last year, we know how hard we approached every game,” Frazer said. “It’s a playoff game for them. So we have to have the same mindset, and then Saturday we get Red Deer and that’s one, two in the division. So it’s going to be a fun weekend.”
The Tigers are three points ahead of the Rebels for first place in the Central, both having played 50 games. While Medicine Hat battles the Hitmen on the road, Red Deer hosts the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Tigers forward Andrew Basha touts the weekend as the most important set of games they’ve had this season. When looking back at last year’s run to the playoffs, they were fighting to get in compared to this seasons’s battle to keep first place, and Basha says it comes down to belief and winning for themselves.
“Just with how good our group is and how comfortable we are with each other, there’s definitely a lot more belief,” Basha said. “Winnipeg was a pretty tough matchup last year for us. The higher we finish it’s obviously going to make it easier on ourselves. So, a lot more belief and we’re just rolling.”
The constant scoreboard watching and flipping between the games on CHL Live can become a habit of fans as the playoffs draw near and hypothetical playoff matchups are brought up in conversations. When it comes to those conversations inside the Tigers’ locker room, each player handles it in their own way.
Forward Oasiz Wiesblatt says he doesn’t scoreboard or standings watch but recognizes it’s on their minds.
“Everyone keeps their mind on it, it’s something that we want to do, we want to win the Central division and go far in the playoffs,” Wiesblatt said.