Third-period comebacks have been a rarity for the Calgary Hitmen this season, as they entered the Sunday afternoon affair against the Medicine Hat Tigers 2-22-2-1 when trailing after 40. Led my a couple newcomers, the Hitmen were able to reverse their fortunes against the top dog in the Central Division.
The Tigers cooked the Hitmen 4-0 in a romp two nights ago at the Canalta Centre. Returning to the Scotiabank Saddledome for the first time after a season-high six-game road trip, the Hitmen were able to extract some revenge with a thrilling 5-4 victory in front of 7,468 fans.
“We weren’t happy with our performance last game. We wanted to come back refocused on home ice,” said Carson Focht.
The Hitmen (17-31-5-2) can thank the great roster turnover for powering them to tonight’s comeback, as they trailed 3-2 after a wild four-goal second period that saw a pair of lead changes.
Conner Chaulk and Focht were both on different rosters when the season started, but teamed up in the third to sink the Tigers.
A beautiful two-line pass from Layne Toder sent Focht in on Michael Bullion, while Dyaln MacPherson and Dan Baker were draped all over him. He was able to fend them off and roof his second of the game and third since joining the Hitmen as a result of the Jake Bean trade.
Chaulk scored what appeared to be the game-winning goal at the 10:09 mark of the third, when Luke Coleman stripped the puck from the Tigers behind their net and found Chaulk out front who chipped in his 12th of the season.
The Regina product has been with the Hitmen since November, when he came over in the blockbuster deal that saw Matteo Gennaro and Beck Malenstyn get shipped to Swift Current.
Lighting the league on fire this year has been local product and Tigers captain Mark Rassell. He was playing in his final junior game at the ‘Dome. Down by one late, Rassell would not let let his last game in Calgary slip away that easily.
“It’s something that was going through my head before the game. I was really excited to play in front of my family and friends for one last time,” said Rassell, who is fourth in the Western Hockey League with 45 goals. “I’ve played a lot of games here over my career and they have all been special for me.”
Bryan Lockner poked the puck away from Zimmerman up to Rassell, who walked in all alone on Nick Schneider and burnt him over his blocker.
“Our line played well tonight. We weren’t perfect, but individually speaking, I think myself and my linemates are satisfied with our game tonight. We played well offensively but there’s always things defensively we can tighten up,” said Rassell.
In the closing moments, Chaulk was there to answer the bell.
The 20-year-old centre turned left winger took a nifty back-pass from Mark Kastelic behind the net and shelved his second of the game with 1:48 remaining.
“Friday was a tough game for us. We faced a lot of adversity in that game and it was all about our response tonight,” said Chaulk. “After a slow start, we got after it in the second period.”
Similar to Friday’s affair, the Tigers (28-23-7-0) blitzed the Hitmen out of the gate. The Hitmen grabbed an early 4-0 lead in shots, but a hooking penalty saw the Tigers record the next 11 shot attempts en route to a 20-10 lead after one.
The new franchise leader for points by a blue liner got the Tigers going in the first period when he snapped a shot from the point past the glove hand of Schneider. The opening marker was David Quenneville’s 23rd of the season.
Picking up an assist was Rassell, who now has 17 points in 23 career games against his hometown team.
The Hitmen came close towards the end of the opening frame when Vladislav Yeryomenko toe-dragged his way in front the point to snap one on net. Pouncing n the rebound was Jake Kryski, but was turned away by the presently bulletproof Michael Bullion.
Bullion blanked the Hitmen on 16 shots last game. He entered the rematch with back-to-back shutouts. Tonight, his streak was snapped at 147:13 when Dakota Krebs pumped in his third goal since joining the Hitmen with Focht in the Bean deal. A mad scramble took place in front of the Alaskan netminder with bodies diving everywhere. The puck popped out to Krebs, who put his head down and piped it off the post and in.
Bullion’s ensuing shutout streak only lasted 1:19, as Focht finished off what was a great initial pass from Tristen Nielsen behind the net out to Zimmerman. Bullion made the initial save on Zimmerman, but the puck got jammed against the right post, where Focht tucked it in for his eighth of the season
“Obviously I didn’t produce too much at the start of my time here, but I’m glad to be back on track and creating chemistry with my new linemates,” said Focht.
It’s been a relatively slow start for the former first-round WHL Bantam Draft pick. Entering this afternoon’s game, he only had one goal and three assists in 14 games.
The Tigers closed out the middle frame strong on the penalty kill when Toder deflected Quenneville’s attempt to pass it in deep. Instead, the puck trickled over to Ryan Jevne, who crossed-up a over-correcting Schneider with a shot past his blocker for this 13th of the season. Quenneville’s second point of the game brought him within one point of being the first Tiger to break the 200-point barrier.
Then, with 61 seconds left in the middle frame, Bryan Lockner ripped one past Schneider short side off a rink-wide feed from James Hamblin, to take a temporary lead into the finale 20.
The two teams combined for 95 shots, as Schneider walked away with 44 saves and Bullion picked up 42 stops.
The Hitmen picked up a valuable two points on the idle Kootenay Ice. They entered tonight’s game with two games in hand on the Cranbrook crew, as they now trail them by 10 points for the final divisional playoff spot.
If there ever was a last-ditch effort to make a playoff push, the time is now as the Hitmen will ride a season-high seven game homestand.
The Hitmen will be back at the ‘Dome Wednesday night when they host the Tri-City Americans (27-19-7-1) at 7 p.m. and welcome Bean back to his hometown for the first time since the trade deadline.