April 25th, 2024

Tigers head into final regular season weekend with playoff matchup booked

By JAMES TUBB on March 22, 2024.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

The Medicine Hat Tigers aren’t jockeying for a high spot in the standings or fighting for their playoff lives heading into the final weekend of the regular season. All that’s left with two games on the schedule is staying healthy and fine tuning their game.

The Tigers head into a home-and-home series with the Lethbridge Hurricanes starting tonight on the road, with the regular season finale Saturday at Co-op Place. Medicine Hat’s first-round opponent was decided Wednesday with the Swift Current Broncos’ 6-3 win over the Red Deer Rebels.

With the win, Swift Current clinched their first Central division title since 1996, making the Tigers the fourth seed and their firs-round opponent the fifth-seed Red Deer Rebels.

Medicine Hat held the Central division lead from Oct. 28 until the Broncos took it with a 4-2 win over the Prince Albert Raiders on March 13.

Head coach Willie Desjardins says it’s disappointing they couldn’t hold onto to the division title but he’s proud of how they’ve handled injuries and set themselves up for the playoffs despite depleted lineups.

“When we had a full lineup early we were playing well, and we got beat up with injuries, which is too bad and that’s what caught us in the end,” Desjardins said. “If we could have stayed healthy than we would have been fine. But for us, and it’s always the same, it’s always about growing and getting better. That was something that got away on us that we wanted.

“Swift did a good job. They made some moves at the deadline, they loaded up and they deserved it, they played well down the stretch. But for us, yeah we wanted it, we talked about it a lot. We just didn’t have enough to get it.”

The Tigers’ first-round series with Red Deer, the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 2015, gets underway March 29 and 30 for Games 1 and 2.

The Tigers put up a 4-2 record against the Rebels in the regular season, with two of their wins requiring overtime. Tickets for non-season ticket holders go on sale Monday at noon.

Taking a brief look at their first-round matchup, Desjardins says the Rebels are as injured as the Tigers but will still be a hard match.

“A lot is going to depend on who comes back but even when they’re missing guys, they’re playing hard,” Desjardins said. “They went in and had a good game against Swift (Wednesday) night, they outshot them. We know they’re a hard team, (Kai) Uchacz is a good leader for that group, he plays hard and (Mats) Lindgren is good on the back end. Their defence are mobile and big.”

Before then, the Tigers enter the weekend against Lethbridge still missing forwards Cayden Lindstrom, Marcus Pacheco and Shane Smith, all listed out week to week.

They’ve recalled a handful of prospects for the playoff run, with forwards Markus and Liam Ruck, Avery Watson, Brayden Ryan-MacKay, defencemen Riley Steen and Koray Bozkaya and goaltender Jordan Switzer all with the team. WHL teams are only allowed to play one draft-year player per game, with the injuries the Tigers have, Desjardins says they’ve asked for an exception but only expects to be able to play one of their prospects.

He says they’ll approach the weekend with the mindset of playing all out to avoid playing halfway and getting hurt.

“You have to find a way to be all in and play hard, and they’re good games for us to get our structure in place and make sure we’re ready to go,” Desjardins said. “We’ll be pushing guys to play with good structure and get us ready for the following weekend.”

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