May 26th, 2024

Trio of new Tigers excited by championship aspirations

By JAMES TUBB on May 11, 2024.

Photo courtesy BRIAN LIESSE SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS, Russ Alman Wenatchee Wild and Ed Fonger swift current broncos Defencemen Bryce Pickford, Jonas Woo and forward Mat Ward were all acquired via trade by the Medicine Hat Tigers during the WHL Prospects draft on Thursday.

As exciting as the Western Hockey League’s draft is for prospects hearing their names called and the fulfillment of a dream coming true, the Medicine Hat Tigers’ three newest players shared in their own excitement.

During the draft Thursday, the Tigers acquired two 18-year-old defencemen, Jonas Woo from the Wenatchee Wild and Bryce Pickford from the Seattle Thunderbirds, and 20-year-old forward Mat Ward from the Swift Current Broncos.

All three were excited when they heard the news of where they were would be playing next season and the teammates they were joining.

“Honestly, I was pumped,” Woo said. “I kind of felt something coming and when I heard it was the Medicine Hat Tigers, I was really excited. I know a couple guys on that team and I’ve heard nothing but great things coming from them and from players who have passed through that organization. When I found out I started asking around how it was and so far it’s been nothing but good things, so I’m excited.”

All three are joining Medicine Hat from the only franchise they’ve known in the WHL, with Woo being a bit of an exception. Ward played 199 games for Swift Current and Pickford suited up in 121 games as a Thunderbird. Woo has played for one organization but in two different cities, being drafted by and starting his WHL career with the Winnipeg Ice before playing last year in the Wenatchee Wild’s debut season. He’s played a combined 146 WHL games for both teams.

He will join the Tigers with more postseason experience than anyone on the roster, totalling 40 games in the playoffs. It’s one of the values the 18-year-old looks to bring to the Gas City.

“I was pretty fortunate to play in the playoffs a lot with Winnipeg and Wenatchee last year and I got to take in from a lot of those top older guys when I was with Winnipeg, and they really taught me a lot,” Woo said. “Bringing that into Medicine Hat, I really hope to share the experience and provide what I learned from the guys in Winnipeg and some in Wenatchee last year and I can move it on to the younger guys this year and even the guys that haven’t been in playoffs so much.”

Pickford will also bring a unique set of experiences to the Tigers’ roster, having won a WHL championship with the Thunderbirds in the 2022-23 season.

“I do have some experience on how to win and I’m excited to come there and add to their culture,” Pickford said.

“I’m looking forward to just meeting these guys and the coaches in the organization, I’ve heard so many good things about them and I am most certainly pumped about having a good run to go get another ring and go to the Mem Cup.”

Both Woo and Pickford describe themselves as puck-moving defencemen with offensive abilities. Pickford added he likes playing in the defensive end as well and enjoys the gritty part of his game.

The Tigers’ third and eldest addition, Mat Ward, needs no introduction to Tigers fans who have watched how the 20-year-old can take over a game offensively and by getting under the skin of his opponents. In 21 career games against Medicine Hat, the gritty forward has 10 goals and 32 points.

Ward admitted he’s given it to a few Tigers over the past few years as the Central division rivalry boiled over on countless nights. Now, the players he used to chirp or play tough against will be on the same bench, an opportunity he’s looking forward to.

“At the end of the day, we’re teammates now and I got a lot of messages and phone calls from players, current players and former players for the Tigers, and we’re just excited to go on and I’m ready to meet all the guys,” Ward said.

Unlike Woo and Pickford who could have three more seasons in junior hockey, Ward is heading into his overage season. Swift Current made the playoffs this season for the first time since a 2018 championship, but lost in the second-round to the Moose Jaw Warriors. Entering the offseason, the Broncos had seven players, including Ward, who would be overagers nest year.

The Kamloops product says this season felt like the end of the line for Swift’s 2004-born group and he wanted to win a championship in his last opportunity.

“I was there for a long time and had a lot of good memories there, but at the end of the day, I wanted to want to be on a contender,” Ward said. “There’s no better contender for next year than Medicine Hat and I’m really, really excited to get going here.”

Ward was watching along on draft day as the Tigers acquired Woo and Pickford and says his excitement level continued to rise as his new team got better and better.

“It’s special, it’s not like waiting around to the deadline to see if you’re a contender,” Ward said. “It’s pretty early on when Willie’s making it known that we’re here to win and we’re not really messing around here.

“I’m really excited to help try and bring a championship back to Medicine Hat here.”

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