April 24th, 2024

Tigers prospects look to soak up playoff experience

By JAMES TUBB on March 27, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Tigers forward Liam Ruck stretches out during warmups ahead of a 4-3 overtime loss Saturday at Co-op Place to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

While all eyes will be on the Medicine Hat Tigers come puck drop for Game 1 on Friday, there will be a group of players sitting in the stands looking to find their answer to the question, how can I be there next season?

Like all WHL teams, the Tigers have recalled a group of prospects unofficially labelled black aces for their playoff run. Their roles are simple, fill out lines during practices and morning skates while players navigate the bumps and bruises of a playoff hunt and be ready if injuries take their tole.

The Tigers have recalled forwards Markus and Liam Ruck, Brayden Ryan-MacKay, defencemen Riley Steen and Koray Bozkaya and goaltender Jordan Switzer for the playoffs.

While they watch games from above and work their way through practices, head coach Willie Desjardins wants their prospects to learn how hard it is to play, let alone find success in the WHL.

“They have no idea how much they have to improve over the summer to play, they don’t,” Desjardins said. “They think they’ll be able to step in and play and that’s not going to just happen, so it’s a matter of learning our speed. It’s a matter of learning our work ethic. You can take huge jumps in the summer. We’re getting them here so they can learn, so they can take huge jumps this summer.”

Both Markus and Liam Ruck played in the final weekend of the season, with the older twin suiting up in Friday’s 3-2 overtime win at Lethbridge and Liam getting in the lineup in the 4-3 overtime loss Saturday to the Hurricanes.

Markus has asked some older Tigers teammates about the playoffs and says they’ve all said it’s a grind. He’s looking forward to being along for the ride and taking lessons while in the workout room, during practice and while watching games.

“We have a good group of young guys here, so we’re going to be working hard in the game, on the ice and will have a good time, but mostly just try to get better and hopefully be ready for the next year,” Markus said.

“We’re just here to be around the team, get used to it and then work hard on our off days and then be with the team during games and support the team as well.”

The Rucks and Steen finished their CSSHL season with the Okanagan Hockey Academy last weekend, finishing in third place after a loss to eventual champion Edge academy.

Liam says the year ended one game sooner than they wanted but he likes the growth he saw in his and Markus’ game over the season.

“Both of us try to work on our 200-foot game a little bit throughout the year, we developed that a bit as the year went on,” Liam said.

Both represented Canada at the Youth Winter Olympics in Gangwon, South Korea at the end of January. Canada finished fourth in the tournament, with Liam missing two games due to an injury suffered in the tournament.

He says it was still a lasting experience and having his time in the red and white cut short only further fuels a fire to don the maple leaf again.

“It was an unbelievable experience for the time I was there, it was tough getting injured but just really cool to be there and be a part of that group,” Liam said.

“I just really hope that I can put myself in the right place to get there again.”

Three Tigers named to WHL all-star teams

The Tigers had three players named to the league’s all-star teams.

Gavin McKenna was named to the Central division’s first all-star team after his 34 goal, 97 point campaign. McKenna is the lone 16-year-old named to a WHL all-star team.

Forwards Andrew Basha and Oasiz Wiesblatt were amend to the Central division’s second all-star team. Basha had 30 goals and 85 points in 63 games, Wiesblatt tallied 26 goals and 91 points in 63 games.

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