After a month-long absence, the Medicine Hat Tigers took to the ice at Canalta Centre to take on the Western Hockey League-leading Edmonton Oil Kings.
It was a big test for the Tigers, which had played its last nine games on the road. Medicine Hat managed five wins during that stretch and its 13-6-1-0 record was good for fifth place overall in the WHL.
“Our excitement to play at home probably carried us through that first period,” said Tigers assistant coach Ryan Smith. “When we were a little heavy in the legs, Mads (Sogaard) was a brick wall for us tonight.”
Edmonton showed some early push, hemming the Tigers in the defending zone, but Sogaard was equal to the task. The Oil Kings outshot the Tigers 16-8 in the first period.
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Smith said. “The start of the game, I mean Mads was our best player by far. He is what he is and when you have that kind of goaltending, it gives you a chance.
“I thought we came off a little sluggish off the long trip yesterday to Red Deer, but he held us in early and we got a late goal.”
Edmonton looked primed to take the lead in the first frame when Josh Williams and Jalen Luypen broke in all alone on Sogaard while killing a penalty, but Williams shot wide.
Four minutes later, with 38 seconds to play, the Tigers opened the scoring.
James Hamblin took a pass from Tyler Preziuso at the Oil Kings blue line, split the two defencemen, then beat goaltender Todd Scott high on the stick side. It was Hamblin’s team-leading 13th goal of the season.
Medicine Hat opened the second stanza with a flurry, scoring three times in the first four minutes to take a commanding 4-0 lead.
Just 21 seconds in, the Tigers forecheck produced a loose puck and Corson Hopwo ripped a shot past Scott, before Hamblin chipped a rebound over Scott at 1:08.
For Hamblin, his second of the game was his 100th career goal, combining regular season and playoff scoring.
At 3:52, Hamblin sent Hopwo in home free on Scott and the Duncan, B.C. native made no mistake on the deke.
Hamblin led with three points on the night and continues to demonstrate why he is one of the premiere overage players in the WHL.
“It’s not often that Jimmy is not one of the top performers – I’ll use the word exceptional,” Smith said. “He’s playing pretty hard right now, but it’s not just all offense. It’s defense as well.
“And he runs our power play. He plays lots of minutes and he takes key draws. He’s all in to win every night.”
For Hopwo, he cashed in on the opportunity to play alongside Hamblin and Preziuso and the unit was the best trio by far on the night.
“It’s nice to see Hopwo get on the scoresheet, and really nice goals,” Smith said. “Those weren’t easy goals. He picked up the puck in the slot and buried it, then got a breakaway and made a heck of a move.
“Tyler had a good game too, with a couple real nice assists. His speed was outstanding.”
Carter Souch tallied on the power play to get the Oil Kings on the board at 7:35 of the second period, taking a centering pass from Josh Williams and beating Sogaard stick side.
Cole Sillinger added his 9th of the season on the power play, ripping a one-timer past Scott at 7:49 of the third period.
The Oil Kings, also playing its 21st game of the season, had compiled a 13-3-3-1 record prior to the tilt in the Gas City. Edmonton had played ten games at home and ten on the road.
The Oil Kings, now 13-4-3-1, have been a tough out for the Tigers of late, as Medicine Hat dropped six of its last seven regular season games between the Central Division foes. Edmonton also eliminated the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs last season, in six games.
Medicine Hat (14-6-1) is 6-1 when leading after 20 minutes and 9-0 when leading after 40 minutes. The Tigers now occupy second place in the Central Division and third overall in the WHL standings.
Around the WHL
Saturday was not a good night across the WHL for the league’s top teams. In addition to the Oil Kings losing, the Prince Albert Raiders, which began the night with the second-best record in the league, dropped a 4-3 shootout verdict to the lowly Regina Pats. With its point, the Raiders (13-4-3-1) are now tied atop the standings with Edmonton.
The third place Lethbridge Hurricanes (13-6) did not play, but the fourth place Kamloops Blazers (14-7) were beaten by the struggling Kelowna Rockets, 4-3. Kelowna (10-8-1-1) had lost four straight before its win last night on home ice.
Ice Chips…Three stars were Hamblin, Hopwo and Sogaard…The Tigers were 1-for-7 on the power play, while the Oil Kings were 1-for-3…The Tigers were outshot for only the third time this season…Medicine Hat scratched D Parker Gavlas and C Bryan Lockner. Gavlas sat out the final game of his four-game suspension, picked up after a checking to the head penalty during the Cougars win at Prince George on Nov. 6. Lockner was nicked up in Red Deer Friday night…Medicine Hat has played 13 of its 21 games away from the Canalta Centre…The Oil Kings have earned at least a point in 12 of its last 14 games…Next home game for the Tigers is Tuesday when the Brandon Wheat Kings visit Canalta Centre. Puck drop is 7:00pm.
1. MH Hamblin 13 (Preziuso) 19:22
Penalties: MH Agyeman (delay of game) 10:58; EDM McIndoe (cross checking) 15:05; MH Longo (holding) 17:05
2. MH Hopwo 4 (Van Impe) :21. 3. MH Hamblin 14 (Preziuso) 1:08. 4. MH Hopwo 5 (Hamblin, Longo) 3:52. 5. EDM Souch 7 (Williams, Guenther) 7:35 (PP)
Penalties: EDM Souch (boarding) 5:28; MH Sillinger (slashing) 6:33; EDM Slaney (hooking) 11:07
6. MH Sillinger 9 (Brown, Chyzowski) 7:49 (PP)
Penalties: EDM Lawson (hooking) 7:06; EDM Lupyen (roughing) 8:48; EDM Scott (tripping – served by Williams) 9:14; EDM McIndoe (high sticking) 13:49
Shots on Goal: MH: 8/10/9: 27. EDM: 16/9/7: 32.
Goaltenders: MH: Sogaard (60:00) 31/32. EDM: Scott (60:00) 22/27.