By JAMES TUBB on February 13, 2024.
The Medicine Hat Tigers were 20 minutes away from a second straight point-less weekend before completing a comeback few other teams could.
A 6-2 loss Friday on the road to the Calgary Hitmen and a 4-1 deficit after 40 minutes Saturday to the Red Deer Rebels had things looking bleak for the Tigers. Their division lead was about to be cut to one point and it would have been their fourth loss in five games.
But the Tigers chipped away and salvaged the weekend, growing their division lead with a three-goal third period and overtime winner to come back and beat the Rebels 5-4 in extra time. It was a comeback effort that head coach Willie Desjardins described as outstanding and an important two points for his group.
“This was a tough game, especially being down going into the third, if it was even going to third maybe, but to be down against a team that plays out hard, it was a pretty special win,” Desjardins said.
With the win, the Tigers lead for first place in the Central division is at four points with the Rebels, who have lost their last seven games, sitting in second.
After falling flat footed on Friday, getting blown out in the Saddledome, the Tigers answered back Saturday with a back-and-forth effort that saw the Rebels get rewarded first. They opened the scoring, Tomas Mrsic answered back on a power play for his 14th and the Rebels rattled off three unanswered across 40 minutes for a 4-1 lead.
The Tigers chipped away, using speed and flow that had lacked in some of their previous games. Hayden Harsanyi’s 11th early in the third nudged awake the crowd of 3,739. Gavin McKenna’s plethora of dekes through a crowd of defender’s for his 23rd made the idea of a comeback real, and with 1:57 left in the game, Andrew Basha’s 23rd off a lost face-off secured a point and set up an unlikely hero for overtime.
Latvian defenceman Bogdans Hodass, who hadn’t scored since Nov. 22, took a drop pass from Hunter St. Martin and scored to call game and complete the comeback. The 20-year-old defenceman was happy to get the monkey off his back and says he’s enjoying the playoff run they’re on.
“Every game is like a playoff game, everyone is battling, teams are fighting for a playoff spot, it’s not easy every night, it doesn’t matter against who,” Hodass said. “We have to prepare for the playoffs because it’s going to be huge. Especially for me because it’s my last year here.”
The Tigers have battled adversity at different points of the season, having made multi-goal comebacks or winning games with a shorthanded lineup against teams who loaded up. Just like those moments, there was no Herb Brooks-like speech, but a team belief that they could overcome the moment.
“We should be able to find that every night, we don’t seem to sometimes, but that was a really good effort,” Desjardins said. “The problem is there’s lots of good teams in our league. We’re still a young team, we’re beat up a bit, there’s lots of stuff going on, to come up with this effort was huge. Because in Calgary we weren’t as good and so to find a way (Saturday) was huge.”
The Tigers (31-17-3-1) don’t get long to rest from an emotional victory as they’re on the road tonight taking on the Regina Pats for the final time this season. That contest opens up a three-game week against the East division, as they’ll host the Prince Albert Raiders on Friday and the Saskatoon Blades, who are the first team to clinch a playoff spot, on Saturday.
As they head into another busy week, the focus for the Tigers remains on maintaining their spot in the standings while also working on the habits that will give them a shot come playoff time, a mere 16 games away.
Forward Oasiz Wiesblatt, who had three assists in Saturday’s win, says they’ve been reminding themselves of the ultimate goal and says Saturday’s win further establishes the fire inside them still burns.
“We’ve been preaching the last two weeks, we want to get that banner up in the air, that’s what we want to do,” Wiesblatt said. “That comeback in the third period, it just kind of shows our team, how strong we can be and we just have to stick with each other.”