The Medicine Hat Tigers produced a fast-paced, high-pressure performance that netted the hosts three quick goals in the third period and a 5-3 win over a game Saskatoon Blades team Saturday at Canalta Centre.
The fact it took a couple of periods to impose the effort on the visitors was a concern, but the Tigers parlayed a dominating final frame – outshooting the Blades 19-4 – into its fourth straight win and eighth in its last 10 games.
“We didn’t overly like our second period,” said assistant coach Joe Frazer. “Out transition was way too slow and I’ll give them credit. They did a really good job in the neutral zone clogging it up.”
Trailing 3-2 after 40 minutes, the Tigers came out for the final 20 minutes and were absolutely relentless.
“We addressed it between periods,” Frazer said. “The guys really got back to the game plan in the third.”
Riding a three-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s engagement the high-flying Tigers took to the ice with a couple of important missions to accomplish.
While the priority was to collect the two points in the standings, there was the little matter of making sure those in attendance could gleefully rid themselves of the stuffed toys, gloves, mittens and toques as part of the annual Teddy Bear Toss game.
When Blades overage forward Riley McKay was sent off for tripping at the five-minute mark, one could sense the spectators immediately began warming up their pitching arms because the Tigers possess the second-best producing power play in the Western Hockey League.
It didn’t take the Tigers long to covert.
Just 22 seconds into the man-advantage, Brett Kemp took a feed from Elijah Brown in the slot and slid the puck between the legs of Blades goaltender, Koen MacInnes. It was Kemp’s eighth goal of the season and produced a flurry of furry projectiles inside Canalta Centre.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Frazer said. “The fans come out for it, for a great cause and I know the boys get excited for this game.”
The game was delayed for about ten minutes as players and volunteers collected the items and deposited them into a cube van near the Zamboni entrance.
While the remainder of the first period was scoreless, the teams erupted for four goals in the second stanza.
Tristan Robins spotted McKay atop the faceoff circle in the Tigers zone and the feisty veteran ripped a shot off the glove of Mads Sogaard to square the contest. Exactly one minute later, the Blades took the lead when Eric Florchuk won a faceoff cleanly to Zach Huber who drilled a slapper past Sogaard before the big Dane could react.
The Tigers evened the score at 6:34. James Hamblin sent a pass up ice to Brown, who made a skilled play to corral the puck at the Blades blueline. Brown walked in alone on MacInnes and sent a wrister in off the goal post to tie the affair.
A little over a minute later, Kyle Crnkovic intercepted a clearing pass inside the Tigers blueline and beat Sogaard from the slot at 7:54 to put the blades up 3-2.
The stage was set for the Blades to steal the victory, one night after escaping Lethbridge with a 4-3 shootout decision over the Hurricanes. Saskatoon entered the contest with a 6-0 record in games when leading after two periods, while the Tigers were a mediocre 4-6-1-0 when trailing after 40 minutes.
Medicine Hat pressured the Blades for most of the third period and was rewarded with three goals 1:33 apart to take control.
Eric Van Impe drifted a shot from the point that hit a Blades defender and the puck eluded MacInnes at 11:07. Corson Hopwo corralled a loose puck 17 seconds later and went bar down past MacInnes. Jonathan Brinkman buried a shot from a sharp angle at 12:40 to make it 5-3.
Saskatoon had been on the road since Nov. 18, the day the team embarked on a five-game road trip through the U.S. Division. The Blades dropped its first four games on the trip, before a win in Kennewick, Washington on Wednesday over the Tri-City Americans. Upon returning to Canada, Saskatoon beat the Hurricanes in Lethbridge (Friday) and were in a favourable position to finish off the road trip with a third straight win.
“I thought we played a good road game under the circumstances,” said Blades head coach Mitch Love, alluding to the team’s travel of late. “We fell asleep for a couple of shifts and when you’re playing a team like that that can put the puck in the net, you can’t afford to do those things.”
“We just had a few guys that weren’t ready to play the third period.”
Love was pleased with MacInnes, who was appearing in only his ninth WHL tilt.
“I thought he did a heck of a job tonight,” Love said. “We were kind of hemming and hawing on who to go with tonight because Nolan (Maier) had really played well last night (in Lethbridge).
“But we kind of had one of these two games circled for Koen, and he was prepared and he looked sharp.”
Saskatoon drops to 14-13-1-1. The Blades have had marginal success against Central Division teams this season, compiling a 6-5 record, although that includes three wins over Lethbridge. The Blades are 0-2 against the Tigers this season but have yet to host Medicine Hat at home.
Medicine Hat, now 18-7-1, is 7-1 against East Division foes.
It’s rather a quick turnaround for the Tigers, which plays host to the next installment of the Highway 3 rivalry when the Hurricanes come to town Tuesday. The southern Alberta rivals have met three times this season, with Lethbridge winning in regulation and the Tigers winning twice in the shootout.
Puck drop Tuesday night is 7:00pm.
Tigers 6, Warriors 0
Medicine Hat scored early and often at Mosaic Place Friday evening, delivering a complete beatdown in Moose Jaw against the Warriors.
Leading 3-0 after 20 minutes on goals from Hamblin (16), Eric Van Impe (3) and Daniel Baker (7), the Tigers would have been able to coast for the final two periods. But the visitors kept the pressure on and added three more tallies in the final frame, from Jonathan Brinkman (5), Baxter Anderson (2) and Hamblin again.
Mads Sogaard turned aside 15 shots for the shutout, his second of the season. Adam Evanoff was under siege the entire game, blocking 45 of 51 shots.
Shutting the door
When Sogaard earned the shutout against Moose Jaw, stats guru Geoffrey Brandow (@GeoffreyBrandow) commenced some research. Since the 1996-97 season, Medicine Hat Tigers’ goaltenders have posted eight shutouts in games when the team faced 16 or fewer shots.
10 – Matt Keetley (Nov. 26, 2006)
15 – Keetley (Mar. 11, 2005)
15 – Keetley (Nov. 11, 2006)
15 – Sogaard (Nov. 29, 2019)
16 – Kevin Nastiuk (Oct. 15, 2004)
16 – Marek Langhamer (Mar. 7, 2015)
16 – Michael Bullion (Feb. 9, 2018)
16 – Sogaard (Feb. 2, 2019)
Around the Central Division
Earlier in the day, the Edmonton Oil Kings (16-6-4-2) edged the Calgary Hitmen (14-7-2-1), 5-4. The Swift Current Broncos (6-15-1-2) dropped a 4-1 decision to the Prince Albert Raiders. The Red Deer Rebels (7-14-0-3) lost 4-3 at home to the Regina Pats. The division-leading Lethbridge Hurricanes (17-7-0-4) did not play.
Tigers Division Records
vs Central Division: 7-4-1
vs East Division: 7-1
vs BC Division: 3-2
vs US Division: 1-0
Ice Chips…Three stars were Brown, Hamblin, and Kemp. Brown had a goal and two assists on the night, while Hamblin chipped in with three helpers…The Tigers were 1-for-4 on the power play, while the Blades were 0-for-3…Medicine Hat scratched D Damon Agyeman, F Caleb Willms, and F Nick McCarry…Sogaard played both games in goal this weekend, but he and Brinkman will be gone for a while now, representing Denmark at an IIHF tournament in hopes of helping the nation to qualify for the 2021 World Junior Championship…Forward Cyle McNabb and defenceman Nick Perna, acquired this past week in separate trades, were both in the lineup Saturday…Medicine Hat has played 12 home games this season, attracting an average crowd of 2,935. Last season, the average population at Canalta Centre was 3,121. The Tigers have 22 home regular-season games remaining.
1. MH Kemp 8 (Brown, Hamblin) 5:23 (pp)
Penalties: SAS McKay (tripping) 5:01, MH Krebs (tripping) 12:08, MH Hamblin (hooking) 12:50, SAS McKay (roughing) 14:05, MH Brown (tripping) 15:57.
2. SAS McKay 11 (Robins, Kneen) 3:19. 3. SAS Huber 8 (Florchuk) 4:19. 4. Brown 4 (Hamblin) 6:34. 5. SAS Crnkovic 9 7:54.
Penalties: SAS Huber (charging) 8:11, SAS Wouters (fighting), MH Hopwo (fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct) 13:13.
6. MH Van Impe 4 (Brown, Lockner) 11:07. 7. Hopwo 7 (Hamblin, Baker) 11:24. 8. Brinkman 6 (Van Impe, Chyzowski) 12:40.
Penalties: SAS McKay (slashing) 15:49, SAS McKay (misconduct), MH Lockner (misconduct) 20:00.
Shots on Goal: MH: 11/16/19: 46. SAS: 10/9/4: 23.
Goaltenders: MH: Sogaard (60:00) 20/23. SAS: MacInnes (60:00) 41/46.