April 22nd, 2024

MacKenzie excited to face hometown Rebels

By JAMES TUBB on March 28, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Tigers captain Tyler MacKenzie stands on the bench after a shift in the first period of a 7-4 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings at Co-op Place on March 1.

jtubb@medicinehatnews.com@ReporterTubb

Tyler MacKenzie’s family will be donning the orange and black for the Medicine Hat Tigers playoffs. His friends on the other hand, may be sticking to their Red Deer roots.

The Tigers captain is looking forward to playing against the Rebels in the first round of the WHL, a team he grew up cheering for and a building he was first introduced to the league in.

“It’s always special to go play in your hometown but a playoff series, there’s definitely a little bit more ante on the line for that one and it’s going to be awesome,” MacKenzie said. “I have lots of family and friends there, but still just focused on my game. You know, it’s going to be a super exciting time. It’s not all the time you get to play a playoff series in your hometown. I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be super fun.”

While there was no doubt in his mind that family will be in friendly colours, MacKenzie says he isn’t sure how friends will handle the series and he hopes if they don the hometown colours, they leave disappointed.

The disappointment of losing a series is something MacKenzie and the Tigers are familiar with, having been swept last year by the former Winnipeg Ice franchise. It was the fist taste of playoff experience for all but two players and MacKenzie says there were lots of lessons learned from the loss.

“After that series was over, the whole mindset was just we wanted to go in next year and we want to win it,” MacKenzie said. “So obviously we learned from them how hard they work, both ends of the ice is super important – offence, defence – even in that neutral zone, super important.

“Learning their work ethic, what it takes, how playoffs is just amped up, it’s times 10. Everything’s more and that’s really what we learned. So we’re trying to take that experience and what we learned to go into this year.”

The Tigers won the season series over the Rebels 4-2, with two of Medicine Hat’s win coming in overtime. Having played against Red Deer 18 times in his four-year WHL career, MacKenzie has gotten to experience Rebels hockey from the other side of the glass and up close and personal. He says they’ll have to bring their best against a team built for the playoffs Red Deer is.

“They’re a really good team, they’re gonna come hard, they have some high-end players and they have a heavy back end, so we know what they’re gonna bring to the table,” MacKenzie said. “We’ve had a great, great rivalry and a great series with them leading up to (playoffs) and so far this year. We’re definitely excited, we’re focused on us and what we can do, and we know what they’re gonna bring and at the same time, we know what we are going to bring and it’ll have to be our best.”

Before the series can shift back to his hometown and he gets the chance to complete a childhood dream of playing playoff hockey in Red Deer, MacKenzie and the Tigers look to take control in Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday. He says they’ll look to have a good start in Game 1 and focus on their game.

“We’re really focused on coming out in that first game, being hot,” MacKenzie said. “We’re just really focused on ourselves coming into these two games. Home ice is huge in the playoffs, especially in first round. There’s going to be a lot of travel, so if we can kind of save our bodies in these first two games, obviously it’s nice, but we’re just going to do it hard and we’re going into (it) with the mindset that we want to win and we want to get it done.”

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