By JAMES TUBB on February 10, 2024.
It’s not easy being the guy showing up halfway through the season but Jack Kachkowski has found a way to make it work.
The 16-year-old defenceman joined a Medicine Hat Tigers train in full steam in the middle of December, signing with the club after originally starting the year on the then AJHL Brooks Bandits and committed to Nebraska-Omaha in the NCAA.
Since then, the St. Albert product has dressed in 14 games for Medicine Hat, recording his first point in a 5-4 OT loss to the Regina Pats on Jan. 20 and tucking his first WHL goal on Feb. 3 in a 3-2 loss to the Prince Albert Raiders.
It was 3-1 early in the third period when Kachkowski scored, he says he skated along the wall and just wanted to get the shot on net, with it sneaking in, happy to get his first.
“We’re in a tight game there and to have the first goal is such a big one, trying to get back in the game it was awesome, the boys were happy and I was just ecstatic, too,” Kachkowski said.
He is one of eight defencemen on the Tigers’ roster, seven who dress regularly on the blue line with Nate Corbet filling in at forward due to injuries up front to Cayden Lindstrom and Brayden Boehm. Kachkowski says his confidence continues to grow with every game and he’s getting more and more comfortable with each shift.
“It feels a lot different my first game to now, just feels like I can almost control the play a bit more,” Kachkowski said. “I have more confidence in my abilities versus the first game, I was just kind of surviving out there.”
He says he’s picked up the speed at the WHL level compared to the AJHL and how much faster his teammates are, which he says has allowed him to know where they are going to be when making passes out of the Tigers’ end.
Associate coach Joe Frazer, who works on the defence end of the bench during games, has liked Kachkowski’s progression in game and his efforts in practice since joining the club.
“When he first got here, (good) habits without the puck, we’ve really been stressing that with him but he’s been outstanding,” Frazer said. “He shows up early, he’s here at 7:30 a.m. every day, wants to watch video every day, we clip his practice drills. We’re watching all this practice shifts and his habits are coming.
“I thought that was his best game in Prince Albert for us. That was exciting to see what he can do. He’s just tapping into what we’re going to see down the road.”
Kachkowski was not in the lineup Friday when the Tigers visited the Calgary Hitmen. While he obviously wants to be in there every night, the young defender has picked up some tools from watching the veterans do their work, and he’s applied them to his own game.
“I just like watching the older guys, especially in the D-zone, just see how they play, stops and starts, how hard they’re working,” Kachkowski said.
He says the group as a whole has welcomed him with open arms, which he says has made it easier to play and practice. As the season continues and he looks for more and more playing time and responsibility with playoffs nearing, Kachkowski says he just wants to be at the top of his game when it matters most.
“I’m just looking towards trying to play my best hockey here and prove I’m able to play defence and offensively in this league and keep going,” Kachkowski said.