April 16th, 2024

Shorthanded Tigers gear up for their busiest stretch of season

By JAMES TUBB on February 28, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Tigers captain Tyler MacKenzie carries the puck up ice in the first period of a 4-3 OT loss Saturday at Co-op Place to the Swift Current Broncos.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

The Medicine Hat Tigers are east bound and down for the playoffs with a long stretch ahead in a short time span.

The Tigers kick off a stretch of six games in nine days on Friday when they host the Edmonton Oil Kings at Co-op Place. It’s a gauntlet head coach Willie Desjardins says wasn’t the best scheduling and includes a game they were forced to take.

He says it’s a time where they just have to find a way to win some games.

“That’s a big, hard schedule late in the year,” Desjardins said. “For sure, after that we only play the two weekends after, we have some time off, but that’s a tough stretch for this time of year. We’re going to have to battle, those are all going to be hard games, there’s not going to be anything easy about it. But that’s just what we’ve got.”

After Friday’s game, the Tigers host the Calgary Hitmen on Sunday and the Brandon Wheat Kings on Tuesday. They then head to Lethbridge for a Wednesday matchup with the Hurricanes on Mar. 6. The next day is an off day that will likely be used for travel ahead of a Mar. 8 contest against the Saskatoon Blades before wrapping up the stretch at Prince Albert against the Raiders on Mar. 9.

“This is a huge stretch, it’s really important,” captain Tyler MacKenzie said. “We want to get as many points as possible in this little run, and it’s going to be fun.

“This is what playoff hockey is, you have lots of games, you might lose one you have to bounce back the next night and it’s going to be fun, it’s really exciting.”

The stretch comes as the Tigers hold onto the Central division lead by a slim three points, with the Swift Current Broncos in second place having a game in hand. It also comes at a time where they, like most hockey teams late in the season, are dealing with injuries.

Cayden Lindstrom is still out week to week, and after the Tigers’ media availability it was released by the WHL weekly report that goaltender Ethan McCallum is also out week to week with an upper-body injury. As a result, Jordan Switzer was recalled from the Northern Alberta Xtreme.

Those injuries paired with forwards Oasiz Wiesblatt and Shane Smith dealing with bumps and bruises that kept them out of Saturday’s 4-3 OT loss to the Saskatoon Blades, the Tigers could have to play some more games with a shorthanded lineup.

Desjardins has been impressed with his younger players and how they’ve handled playing more minutes and with more responsibility over the shorthanded stretch.

“With the number of guys we had, I couldn’t hide guys, they had to match up against some of Swift Current’s bigger and better players, and they did a great job on it,” Desjardins said. “It was total commitment from all the guys, so I was happy. It shows for sure the young guys are growing and getting better, and I thought our older players played well.”

Last season the Tigers embraced a three-game series mentality as they willed themselves into the eighth and final playoff spot. That focus on winning each three-game set came from then 20-year-old Dallon Melin.

This season and playoff push, MacKenzie says the mood has been that every game matters and having a focus on maturity in their game.

“Obviously we’re in a good spot right now and we want to treat every game like a playoff game,” MacKenzie said. “So it’s less a three-game series and more taking it game by game and living in the moment, thinking in the moment for us which is really important. We talked about in meetings just being able to go through the motions at the right time and not get too high, not get too low.”

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