Opening night in Medicine Hat was billed as a festive occasion, celebrating the Tigers 50th anniversary season. There was excitement in the air at the Canalta Centre, and the organization put on fun-filled day of events prior to puck drop.
Unfortunately, the Lethbridge Hurricanes refused to cooperate, handing the home team a 3-1 defeat in front of 4,050 spectators.
“Both games, I thought we played hard,” said Hurricanes bench boss, Brent Kisio when asked how important it was to respond after giving up the lead on Friday night in a 4-3 loss to Medicine Hat. “We have some real young guys playing right now.”
On Saturday, Alex Cotton quieted a rambunctious crowd when he gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead at 3:34. Cotton collected a nifty backhand feed from Zack Stringer then ripped a shot glove side past Mads Sogaard in the Medicine Hat goal.
Lethbridge extended its advantage at 18:57 of the second stanza after Tigers import forward Jonathan Brinkman coughed up the puck in the Hurricanes zone. When the ‘Canes gained the Tigers blueline, Noah Boyko found some open ice in the slot and fired a shot high glove side past Sogaard.
For the second straight night, the Tigers trailed after 40 minutes.
Ryan Chyzowski breathed some life into the building midway through the final frame when he went sprawling toward the net to swipe a rebound past Hurricanes netminder Bryan Thomson while the Tigers had the man advantage.
After that, Thomson shut the door. In fact, Thomson was outstanding all night long.
The 17-year-old, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, played in only his sixth WHL game. He was poised and steady in his opposition’s rink, calmly controlling rebounds and he seemed to frustrate the Tigers shooters.
“He’s been good for us,” Kisio said of Thomson. “He came in last season and backed up a few games. For him to respond like this in a visiting rink – it was an outstanding performance.”
Thomson, a native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, was selected by Lethbridge in the second round, 37th overall, at the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
Rookie import forward Oliver Okuliar closed out the scoring, counting an empty-netter with 40 seconds to play.
For his part, Tigers head coach Willie Desjardins did not mince words after the defeat.
“We played pretty good in the third, I thought we had a lot of energy,” he said. “You know, that’s a game you’ve got to find a way to win at home.
“We had some guys – we probably didn’t get their best. I think if they looked at their game, they’d say they have a little bit more to give.”
One player Desjardins was pleased with, in both games, was his goaltender.
“Mads was good,” he said. “He made a couple of saves tonight and gave us a chance. We just couldn’t capitalize.”
Late in the third period, down a goal, rookies Dru Krebs and Cole Sillinger where rewarded with ice time with less than five minutes to play.
“Sometimes when you have 16-year-olds, your’e trying to find them ice time,” Desjardins said. “We don’t have to try and find minutes for those two guys. They deserve their minutes. They’ll get a regular shift.”
Suffice to say, this “Battle of Alberta” is alive and well.
Of course, the moniker is seemingly reserved for the professional and junior teams located in Calgary and Edmonton. But rest assured, the Tigers and Hurricanes have their own little score to settle over the course of eight meetings this season.
The “Highway 3 Rivalry”, it’s called. With two down and six to go, it’s all tied up at one apiece.
Ice Chips…Three stars were Thomson, Sogaard and Boyko…The Tigers were 1-for-3 on the power play. The Hurricanes went 0-for-2…Medicine Hat outshot Lethbridge, 33-24…Medicine Hat scratched C Noah Danielson, D Ryan Watson and D Damon Agyeman. Lethbridge scratched D Dylan Ashe, D Logan McCutcheon, D Joe Arntsen, LW Justin Hall, C Adam Hall, C Logan Barlage (suspended)…’Canes F Jacob Boucher was helped off the ice midway through the second period and did not return…Since 2012-13, the teams have squared off on the opening weekend every season. The Tigers hold the edge in those games, 10-6-0-0…Tigers captain C James Hamblin appeared in his 263rd WHL game, while assistant captain RW Tyler Preziuso played his 267th…For Lethbridge, F D-Jay Jerome, now 20, played his 170th career WHL game. D Ty Prefontaine appeared in his 193rd WHL game…D Calen Addison was in the lineup after being sent back to the Hurricanes by the Pittsburgh Penguins…C Dylan Cozens, who has signed an entry level contract, played in Buffalo with the Sabres in a 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday…The Tigers played its first regular season game at Canalta Centre on September 26, 2015…During the Tigers first season in the WHL, in 1970, the regular season opened on October 15. This season, the first game was played on September 20…The Tigers play three games in three nights next weekend, home-and-home against the Swift Current Broncos, then an afternoon tilt in Calgary on Sunday.