April 23rd, 2024

Tigers kick off six game, nine day stretch tonight

By JAMES TUBB on March 1, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender Zach Zahara leans on the bench after the first period of a 5-4 overtime win at Co-op Place over the Red Deer Rebels.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

Scoring goals and catching Z’s is the focus for the Medicine Hat Tigers heading into their busiest stretch of the season.

The Tigers enter a stretch of six games in nine days that starts tonight when they host the Edmonton Oil Kings. After a rare Saturday off day, the Calgary Hitmen will be at Co-op Place on Sunday and the Brandon Wheat Kings visit Tuesday. They then hit the road Wednesday to face the Lethbridge Hurricanes and have a two-game road set against the Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders on Feb. 16 and 17 to wrap up the stretch.

It’s a mountain in the schedule they’ve circled for weeks and one associate coach Joe Frazer says they’re looking forward to summiting.

“We’re excited, we had a good week of practice, touched on some things we have to continue to improve on and things we’re doing well,” Frazer said. “It’s been a good week, we’ve had good practices and good workouts, the guys are going to be fast tomorrow and they’re excited to get this week going.”

Frazer says they’re looking to improve on their habits and structure, with 10 games remaining on the calendar before the playoffs, he says their focus has been getting that dialled in for postseason.

They’ll also look to hold their own in the standings, still retaining the Central division lead with 73 points, three ahead of the Broncos who have a game in hand. The Tigers have the opportunity to set the tone for teams chasing them in the standings.

It’s a stretch that defenceman Rhett Parsons says requires a playoff-like mentality.

“We have to go into every night with a playoff mindset to try and win every night,” Parsons said. “I’m just trying to get my body prepared and my teammates prepared for a war every night.”

They’ll look to maintain their standing without goaltender Ethan McCallum who is out week to week with an upper-body injury suffered in practice Monday. Frazer says the 17-year-old netminder was “selling out” to make a save in a drill and the puck caught him wrong.

That leaves Medicine Hat with 18-year-old Zach Zahara and freshly recalled 16-year-old Jordan Switzer to man the crease moving forward.

Being the top option is nothing new to Zahara, who handled the lion’s share of starts the last two seasons with the South Alberta Hockey Academy’s U18 team, starting 23 games last year. He’s already at 22 WHL appearances this season. He says the role doesn’t change anything for him on or off the ice.

“It’s a huge opportunity for myself to take the wheel here and give the guys a chance to win,” Zahara said.

As for Switzer, who has a 14-1-1 record and .902 save percentage with the Northern Alberta Xtreme’s U18 team this season, Frazer says they’ll try to find a spot for his WHL debut.

“We play a lot of games so we’re just trying to figure out what’s best for Zach, how to keep him as fresh as possible in the ‘six in nine’ and also get Jordan the best chance to be successful, too,” Frazer said.

The Tigers did get a boost off the ice this week with the return of Cayden Lindstrom in the locker room. The 17-year-old is still out week to week but has returned to Medicine Hat to continue his rehab. While he’s not winning face-offs or blasting pucks on the power play, Frazer says his energy has put a pep in the step of them all since arriving.

“He’s brings a smile to the rink, he’s excited to be back,” Frazer said. “I’m a big believer in energy so he’s excited and it adds to the group’s excitement. That’s why I also think we’ve had a great week, just having him back in the room and back with the boys.”

McKenna named rookie of the month

For the second month in a row, Gavin McKenna is the WHL’s top rookie.

The league announced the honours on Thursday.

McKenna had eight goals and 20 points in 11 games in the month, leading all rookie scorers. He had six multi-point efforts in the month as well.

The 16-year-old leads the Tigers with 83 points and sits 11th in league scoring entering play Friday.

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