MEDICINE HAT, AB – For a team with a roster that is most certainly a work in progress, the struggling Moose Jaw Warriors waltzed into Canalta Centre Friday intent on upsetting the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Early on, the opportunistic Warriors produced a quick start, the kind of effort locals have become accustomed to seeing from the Tigers. The visitors were effective out of the gate, but the highly skilled Tigers were too much on this night, winning ugly by a score of 5-2 in a game that was much closer than the scoreboard might show.
“We definitely know that we’re better than that team,” said Tigers forward Brett Kemp, who rescued his mates with a three-point third period to help salvage the win. “We can beat them. To come back was definitely nice.”
The issue was certainly in doubt for much of the contest.
Less than five minutes in, Logan Doust picked up a loose puck, skated in alone and beat Garin Bjorklund with a wrister glove-side to open the scoring. For Doust, who was acquired by Moose Jaw from the Victoria Royals in the blockbuster trade deadline deal Thursday, it was his third goal of the season. It was also his 100th career Western Hockey League game.
Two minutes later, the Warriors broke into the attacking zone two-on-one. Veteran forward Owen Hardy hung on to the puck, then rifled a shot high short-side to put the guests ahead 2-0. It was the 20-year-old Hardy’s team-leading 18th goal of the campaign.
A total fluke led directly to Caleb Willms tally at 13:06. Otherwise, the Tigers may have adjourned for intermission down by a pair of goals.
Defenceman Cole Clayton ripped the puck deep into the attacking zone and Warriors netminder Boston Bilous left the crease to slow it down behind the cage. But the puck caromed from the corner boards into the slot and Willms swatted it in for his fourth of the season.
Medicine Hat dominated the second stanza, outshooting the Warriors 15-5, but could not solve Bilous. The Tigers also took three minor penalties in the period to stymie their own attempt to build momentum. Moose Jaw led 2-1 after 40 minutes.
The Tigers drew even at 2:42 of the final frame. Brett Kemp showed his patience and puck skills in heavy traffic, pulling two defenders away from Cole Sillinger. Kemp found an opening, slid the puck to Sillinger and the 16-year-old fired a laser past Bilous from 15 feet out.
It was Sillinger’s 16th of the season, which ties him for the league lead among rookies with Dylan Guenther of the Edmonton Oil Kings and Pavel Novak of the Kelowna Rockets. Sillinger leads all rookies with 41 points.
“He has great skills,” said head coach Willie Desjardins, when asked about Kemp and his play with the puck. “I think he’s proven a number of times how good he is.
“We needed a big third period and he came out and gave us a big third period.”
If there was a turning point on the night, it may have come in unlikely fashion.
With the tilt tied at 2-2, James Hamblin took a tripping penalty with seven minutes to play. Moose Jaw pressed, but Bjorklund held the fort, turning away a pair of point-blank scoring chances by the Warriors. Just ten seconds after Hamblin’s minor expired, Kemp tracked down a loose puck in the attacking zone and stuffed it past Bilous for his 19th of the season at 15:10.
The Tigers, now 27-12-1-1, added two empty-net goals — one by Kemp and the final dagger by Daniel Baker — to make the final 5-2.
Bilous, acquired by the Warriors last week from the Prince Albert Raiders, was outstanding in the loss, blocking 44-of-47 shots on the night. At the other end, Bjorklund provided the kind of steady effort that, during his rookie season, has earned him the confidence of the coaching staff.
“He’s a good goaltender,” Desjardins said of Bjorklund. “I expect it from him. I have confidence in him.
“We could have been down 4-0 in the first period. He made a couple of good saves. That’s why we left him in.”
The Tigers had won the two previous meetings, a week apart in November, outscoring the Warriors by a combined 9-1. The teams get back at it Saturday night at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.
Ice Chips…Three stars were Kemp, Bilous and Sillinger…Kemp and Sillinger had three points each, all coming in the third period…The Tigers were 0-for-4 on the power play, while the Hitmen were 0-for-1. Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat are among the least penalized teams in the WHL…Medicine Hat has the top producing power play in the WHL at 28% efficiency. On the road, the Tigers are far and away leading the pack, converting on 35% of their chances. Lethbridge is next at 29.1%. Curiously, at home, the Tigers are 14th in the league at 18.6%…The Tigers have surrendered the most shorthanded goals this season – a total of 8 – but none have been given up at Canalta Centre…Medicine Hat scratched F Elijah Brown, D Damon Agyeman, D Nick Perna and F Nick McCarry…Moose Jaw scratched D Daemon Hunt, F Bryden Kiesman and F (AP) Atley Calvert…Tigers D Corson Hopwo played in his 100th career WHL game…The Tigers made one deal at the trade deadline, acquiring 16-year-old defenceman Luke Rybinski from the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for a 2020 sixth-round pick…Medicine Hat is 14-4-1 on home ice and 13-8-0-1 on the road…A quick turnaround for both teams as they will renew acquaintances Saturday night in Moose Jaw…The next home game is Jan. 18 when the Lethbridge Hurricanes come calling.
1. MJ Doust 3 4:48.
2. MJ Hardy 18 (Jordan) 6:51.
3. MH Willms 4 (Clayton, Danielson) 13:09.
Penalties: MH Van Impe (interference) 10:48. MH Gavlas (boarding) 12:48. MH Hamblin (delay of game) 15:24.
4. MH Sillinger 16 (Kemp, Baker) 2:42.
5. MH Kemp 19 (Sillinger) 15:10
6. MH Kemp 20 (Clayton) 18:54 (en)
7. MH Baker 9 (Hamblin) 19:29 (en)
Penalties: MJ Crosbie (tripping) 6:27. MH Hamblin (tripping) 12:55.
Shots on Goal
MH: 17-15-12: 49
MJ: 14-5-5: 24
MH: Bjorklund (60:00) 22/24
MJ: Bilous (59:44) 44/47
Attendance at Canalta Centre: 2,710
Around the Central Division
The Edmonton Oil Kings (28-7-5-3) dropped a 2-1 shootout decision in Saskatoon to the Blades…The Lethbridge Hurricanes (24-10-2-5) doubled the Calgary Hitmen (20-13-4-1), 4-2 at the Saddledome…The Red Deer Rebels (14-22-1-3) were edged in Brandon by the Wheat Kings, 2-1.
Tigers Record By Division
vs Central Division: 11-7-1-1
vs East Division: 11-2
vs BC Division: 3-2
vs US Division: 2-0
Tigers Remaining Games vs Central Division (14)
Edmonton: Home 1; Away 2.
Lethbridge: Home 2; Away 1.
Calgary: Home 1.
Red Deer: Home 1; Away 1.
Swift Current: Home 3; Away 2.