April 25th, 2024

Spilka looking to take next step as playoffs near

By JAMES TUBB on March 14, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Tigers forward Vasyl Spilka squares up for a face off in the first period of a 5-2 win over the Regina Pats at Co-op Place on Feb. 6.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

After a staggered start to his tenure in North America and the Western Hockey League, Vasyl Spilka is settling in.

The 17-year-old Leberec, Czechia product has been playing full-time since before the holiday break after battling injuries in the first half of the season. He made his WHL debut on Oct. 27 and played in consecutive games until suffering a lower body injury on Nov. 10 that kept him out a couple of weeks.

Since then, Spilka as played full time up and down in the lineup, putting up seven goals and 16 points in 46 games. Head coach Willie Desjardins says they expected him to be a good player for them down the stretch and he likes the upside Spilka brings.

“He’s really smart player, he’s so smart and good with a stick, it’s been a hard year for him though,” Desjardins said. “He’s had some injuries, he’s not playing the way he wants to be, he wants to be better and it’s just hard. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, he knows he has to get quicker but he’s worked at his game. I like it, he’s got an upside but saying that, he has to be good and we need him to be good.”

Spilka is first to admit he wants more from his game but says he is feeling more comfortable as games go on.

“It’s not the season I want to play,” Spilka said. I think I adjusted (to) the game, I’m playing better right now. But still, I want more, I want to play better.”

The Tigers selected Spilka 87th overall in the 2023 CHL import draft. His arrival to Medicine Hat was delayed by an off-season shoulder injury. While adjusting to the North American brand of hockey on smaller ice surfaces has been something to learn, Spilka also started his tenure as a Tiger on the wing. A position he says he hadn’t played a lot of.

As he got more settled in and injuries took their tole on the orange and black, he’s slotted down the middle more in the second half and has won 96 draws, equalling 45.5 per cent of the face offs he’s taken, fifth best on the Tigers for players who have taken more than five face offs.

He says he’s always played centre and enjoys having the more space down the middle of the ice than playing a wing and stuck to a side.

“I think I’m a better as a centreman,” Spilka said. “I’m more free as a centreman and I can show my skills.

“As a winger, you’re on the wall so you don’t have much to do when you get the puck. As a centre, you just can go wherever you want.”

The Tigers head into an important weekend standings wise. After holding the Central division lead from Oct. 28, the Tigers are in second place as the Swift Current Broncos passed them with a 4-2 win Tuesday night over the Prince Albert Raiders.

With a home-and-home series this weekend between the Tigers and Broncos, who have played two fewer games than Medicine Hat, an impactful four points are up for grabs. It’s a weekend Spilka says the team and himself are looking forward to.

“We still want a banner, we want to hang a banner for Central division champs but we have to win,” Spilka said. “Swift is a very good team and we have a lot to prove, especially in the first game in Swift because it’s a hard building to win in.”

That series with Swift Current is two of their last four games, as they end the regular season March 22 and 23 with a home-and-home series against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. With the postseason around the corner, his first in the WHL, Spilka has a lot of excitement for the playoffs and taking his game to the next level come puck drop of Game 1.

“It’s the best part of the season, that’s why we play this game (is) for the playoffs,” Spilka said. “We have to make sure to get ready for these last four games, tough games. We just have to prepare for (the) playoffs.”

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