April 22nd, 2024

Tigers needing a bounce in tight games

By JAMES TUBB on April 4, 2024.

Medicine Hat Tigers forward Andrew Basha tries to out wait Red Deer Rebels goaltender Chase Wutzke on a breakaway in the first period of Game 3 Tuesday at Red Deer.--NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB



In a ping-pong first-round series, the Medicine Hat Tigers are looking to find their bounces.

The Tigers have had their chances against the Red Deer Rebels, but aren’t finding the same puck luck as their Central division opponents who held a 2-1 series lead after a 4-3 overtime win Tuesday night at the Peavy Mart Centrium.

The Tigers continue to get on the board first, scoring the opening goal in all three contests, but have surrendered the last goal in all three games as well. In Game 1 that final goal came off the stick of Kalan Lind for a double-overtime winner. In Game 2, Red Deer’s Ollie Josephson scored in a third-period comeback bid that Medicine Hat held on through for the win.

Tuesday night, the Tigers scored the last goal in regulation, with a tying goal from Andrew Basha with 34 seconds left on the clock. A momentum grabber for only a little bit beyond the intermission before Red Deer’s Samuel Drancak found twine on a power play in overtime.

Head coach Willie Desjardins says his team has looked good in all three games to start the best-of-seven series but says they’ve just been tight games.

“Game 2 was a close game, both teams played hard, Game 1 was a close game, both teams played hard,” Desjardins said. “It’s just a shot here or there that makes a difference.”

The Tigers have outshot Red Deer in the series, 106-101 and the goals scored in the matchup are even through three games at 10 apiece, with the Rebels finding the net twice when it matters most. The series difference isn’t something forward Shane Smith is worried about, he says they need to approach the rest of the series with an empty mind.

“Just go in and work hard, stick to our game plan and play our game, we know we can win,” Smith said. “That’s really important, just keep being resilient, no matter what happens kind of having short-term memory, taking that into tomorrow and the rest of the series.”

Medicine Hat almost had an 11th goal in the series with an overturned marker in the first half of the third period, before Basha scored his late tying goal. Reid Andresen’s apparent tying goal was waived off due to incidental contact with the goaltender. Desjardins liked how they bounced back from the overturned goal and Smith says how they handled the adversity is something they’ll look to carry throughout the playoffs.

“I thought our effort was great, lots of credit to us with a short bench again, the boys played hard,” Desjardins said.

“It just shows the resiliency we have as a group,” Smith said. “We’ve shown it all year, we’ve won some tough games and unfortunately, that one didn’t go our way. But we’re just trying to build off a couple mistakes we had and take that (forward) so we can come out flying.”

Medicine Hat played with 10 forwards and seven defencemen Tuesday, with forward Cayden Lindstrom a late scratch after taking warmups.

Desjardins had no update on the 18-year-old forward who only returned to play in Game 1 after missing the second half of the season while recovering from a hand and back injury.

Smith nominated for humanitarian award

Before puck drop Tuesday, Smith was named the Central division’s nominee for the Doug Wickenheiser Memorial Trophy that is presented to the WHL’s humanitarian of the year.

The 19-year-old led the Tigers with 200 volunteer hours this season through various efforts such as school visits to speak to students about leadership, goal-setting and mental health, before grabbing a stick for some floor hockey games.

“It’s a nomination I will never forget, it means a lot to be to be nominated for that, something I can kind of look back on and something I take pride in, just like the community service and working with kids and whatever it may be,” Smith said.

The Cessford product helped coach Medicine Hat Minor Hockey players in U9 to U15 age groups and took part in events like Skate with the Tigers, Canadian Armed Forces Family Skates at CFB Suffield and Tigers Adaptive Floor Hockey Games with the Special Olympics Medicine Hat team ahead of the annual Joey Moss Tournament.

Off the ice, Smith was also part of the Medicine Hat News Santa Claus Fund, an organization helping people in need to have a merry Christmas, and the Wild 94.5 Food Drive. While he appreciates the recognition, Smith says he doesn’t do it for the honours and will continue to volunteer whether or not he’s the award winner.

“The community means a lot to me and I’m just trying to give to them,” Smith said. “I know as a young kid, I looked up to older junior hockey players and players in the NHL. So I’m just trying to hopefully be that guy for some of the younger kids and continue to do that throughout my career.”

He’s started laying the groundwork for future projects in the 2024-25 season, mainly focusing on advocating for mental health awareness in children and youth.

Tigers rookie Gavin McKenna was nominated for the WHL’s rookie of the year in a league announcement Wednesday morning.

His 34 goals and 97 points in 61 games finished second in rookie scoring.

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