April 15th, 2024

From third-string to playoff starter, Wakelam ready to backstop Cubs

By JAMES TUBB on February 24, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Cubs goaltender Tyler Wakelam braces to make a save in the first period of a 5-3 win Jan. 28 at the Kinplex over the Coaldale Copperheads.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

Tyler Wakelam was in the stands for the Medicine Hat Cubs playoffs last year and was their third goaltender to start this season. After putting up one of the top stat lines in the league, he’ll be between the pipes for Game 1 of their playoffs.

The Irvine product rose through the Cubs’ depth chart after starting the season as their third-string goaltender. Injuries allowed him to get his opportunity and he ran with it, picking up 11 wins in 20 appearances with two shutouts, a 2.35 goals against average and a .916 save percentage.

The 18-year-old’s GAA and SV% rank third in the league, behind Okotoks Bison 21-year-old net minder Grady Nichols and Sylvan Lake Wranglers 21-year-old net minder Peyton lobe.

Wakelam says he just waited for his opportunity and took it, crediting his teammates for making him feel welcome and allowing him to flourish.

“Just hanging out with the guys in practice, they got me really tuned in for the season,” Wakelam said. “Not having to jump in right away, could just get accustomed to the junior atmosphere and lifestyle. So I can attribute it to just the guys being super supportive.”

He’ll be starting Game 1 of the Cubs second round series against the Coaldale Copperheads. Puck drop for that game is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Kinplex.

Wakelam came up through the Medicine Hat ranks, playing in the SCAHL program as a Medicine Hat Hound, one year on the U15AA team and two at the U18 level. He made the jump to the HJHL this season and was told from the start he’d be third-string and was not promised many games.

How he handled that news and worked with it impressed head coach and general manager Randy Wong.

“He’s been an awesome practice player, it didn’t matter if he was in the lineup, he knew he was loading the bus and going on a road trip and not playing,” Wong said. “So that tells you the character of the kid, that he wanted to be around the guys. So he worked hard in practice, because he knew that was what he had to do.”

His first start was Oct. 13, a 12-3 win over the Ponoka Stampeders where he allowed three goals on 13 shots. Wong says there was some nerves watching their new goaltender in that game but any doubts were quickly thwarted in his next couple of starts.

Wakelam shutout the Stampeders on Oct. 29 with 20 saves. He recorded his second shutout Nov. 10, blanking the Red Deer Vipers with another 20 saves.

“He wants to compete and he waited for his opportunity, he’s the one that proved us wrong,” Wong said. “I’m all for that, I love when players prove coaches wrong because it’s for the good, it’s better for the team and it’s better for the good for the player. It works out for the team in the end.”

While he’s handled the regular season and worked his way into the starter role, Wakelam gets his first on-ice experience with the HJHL playoffs. He was in attendance as a fan last season during the Cubs run to an early exit in the South finals against the Okotoks Bisons.

Wakelam enjoyed his role as part of the crowd and creating the atmosphere in the Kinplex and he says he’s ready to see and experience that atmosphere from a different point of view, one with a little more responsibility behind it.

“A lot of the focus will be on the ice for sure but I might be a little bit turned into the crowd every once in a while, see scenes they’ve got going on but it should be exciting,” Wakelam said.

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