MEDICINE HAT, AB – Veteran forward James Hamblin continued his torrid scoring pace with four goals including a natural hat trick, and rookie netminder Garin Bjorklund made the key stops when it mattered most as the Medicine Hat Tigers knocked off the Lethbridge Hurricanes by a 6-2 count Saturday at Canalta Centre.
Hamblin has scored 27 goals and added 41 assists through 43 games, good for 68 points and third place overall in the Western Hockey League scoring race.
Bjorklund, now 15-3 on the season, was outstanding during the first period in particular, thwarting the Hurricanes 13 times as the visitors pressured to offset Hamblin’s trifecta.
Medicine Hat (29-12-1-1) got an early jump when Hamblin beat Lethbridge starting goaltender Carl Tetachuk 12 seconds into the contest. Corson Hopwo and Lukas Svejkovsky worked the puck into the attacking zone and when it bounced in front of Tetachuk, Hamblin was atop the crease to chip in the opening goal.
At 3:59, Svejkovsky did the heavy lifting deep in the Hurricanes zone, spun around to avoid a defender, then found Hamblin near the bottom of the face-off circle and the Tigers’ captain beat Tetachuk again.
Lethbridge appeared to find its legs for much of the remaining 16 minutes and a late power play provided an opportunity to narrow the gap. But Bjorklund held the fort, making a pair of preposterous pad saves when the Hurricanes applied pressure with the man advantage.
Then surprisingly, as Lethbridge re-grouped in the neutral zone, 20-year-old defenceman Koletrane Wilson blew a tire at his own blueline and lost control of the puck. Hamblin, “Jimmy”-on-the-spot, walked in alone and beat Tetachuk high glove side with only 38 seconds to play in the period.
It was Hamblin’s third shorthanded marker of the season, a goal that seemed to dishearten the visitors and also signaled the end of Tetachuk’s evening. Bryan Thomson took over goaltending duties to start the second stanza.
Dylan Cozens (21) and Dylan Plouffe (8) on the power play, exchanged second-period goals and the Tigers took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission. Entering the contest, Medicine Hat was 19-1 in games when leading after 40 minutes.
In the third period, Medicine Hat sandwiched Hamblin’s fourth of the night and a shorthanded goal by Ryan Chyzowski (21) around Justin Hall’s 12th of the campaign to make the final 6-2.
The Tigers are now 5-1 versus the division rival Hurricanes this season and leapfrogged over Lethbridge (26-11-2-5) into second place in the Central Division.
Medicine Hat has an early date today in Edmonton, a 4:00 pm start against the eastern conference-leading Oil Kings in the Albert capital. For Lethbridge, the tilt was the first of seven straight games on the road. The Tigers and Hurricanes will not meet again until a home-and-home set on the final weekend of the WHL regular-season schedule.
Ice Chips…The three-star selection crew tabbed Hamblin, Chyzowski, and Plouffe on the night, curiously bypassing Bjorklund’s fine performance…It was the first four-goal game of Hamblin’s WHL career. He has played 304 regular-season and 17 post-season games. Hamblin has at least a point in each of his last 14 games…Plouffe, who came over from the Vancouver Giants in a trade on Dec. 7, leads all WHL defencemen with 148 shots on goal…Svejkovsky, the other piece in the deal with the Giants, played in his 100th career WHL game…The Tigers were 1-for-6 on the power play, while the Hurricanes went 0-for-4. The ‘Canes took nine of 16 minor penalties…The Tigers have surrendered a league-high eight shorthanded goals this season while scoring six times when down a man…Medicine Hat scratched F Elijah Brown, D Damon Agyeman, D Nick Perna, and F Caleb Willms. Lethbridge played without F Dino Kambeitz, F Zach Stringer and D Joe Arnsten…Medicine Hat is 15-4-1 on home ice and 14-8-0-1 on the road.
Tigers Tales…When the 2019-20 season began, Bjorklund was the clear backup to Mads Sogaard, but it says here the Tigers indeed possess a solid “1 – 1A” tandem at this point in the season. Sogaard, 14-8-2 in 25 starts, is from Denmark and was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the second round, 32nd overall, at the 2019 NHL Draft. Bjorklund was recently ranked 10th overall among North American goalies in the NHL Central Scouting mid-season…With an assist, Brett Kemp (22-35; 57 points) kept his consecutive game point-scoring streak alive. The shifty veteran forward as 17 points in his last 10 games…Through 20 games at home this season, Medicine Hat is averaging 2,972 fans per game…Fast starts have served the Tigers well this season. The team has outscored opponents in the first period by a wide margin, 55-37…Medicine Hat has 387 penalty minutes this season. Only Winnipeg (384) and Moose Jaw (357) have fewer…After the tilt in Edmonton, the Tigers play in Saskatoon and Prince Albert next weekend before its next home game Jan. 28 when the Swift Current Broncos come calling.
1. MH Hamblin 24 (Svejkovsky, Hopwo) :12.
2. MH Hamblin 25 (Svejkovsky, Baker) 3:59.
3. MH Hamblin 26 19:22 (sh).
Penalties: LET Okuliar (high sticking) 11:06; MH Gavlas (kneeing) 13:55; LET Davis (tripping) 13:59; MH Gavlas (roughing) 18:47.
4. LET Cozens 21 (Addison, Prefontaine) 7:12.
5. MH Plouffe 8 (Sillinger) 9:23 (pp).
Penalties: LET Barlage (check from behind) 9:01; LET Okuliar, MH Plouffe (unsportsmanlike conduct) 10:30; LET Boyko (slashing) 11:43; MH McNabb (hooking) 14:13; LET Thurston (cross-checking – served by Dorrington – misconduct) 18:37.
4. MH Hamblin 27 (Hopwo) 2:03.
6. LET Hall 12 (Prefontaine) 3:47.
7. MH Chyzowski 21 (Plouffe, Kemp) 8:57 (sh).
Penalties: LET Wheatcroft (slashing), MH Hopwo (unsportsmanlike conduct) 3:58; MH Sillinger (slashing) 7:04; LET Cotton, MH Sillinger (slashing) 11:42.
Shots on Goal
MH: 11-11-12: 34.
LET: 13-10-5: 28.
MH: Bjorklund (60:00) 26/28.
LET: Tetachuk (20:00) 8/11. Thomson (40:00) 20/23.
Attendance at Canalta Centre: 3,078
Around the Central Division
The Calgary Hitmen (22-15-4-1) dropped a 5-2 decision to the ICE in Winnipeg…Swift Current (9-29-1-3) lost 7-2 to the Blades in Saskatoon.
Tigers Record By Division
vs Central Division: 12-7-1-1
vs East Division: 12-2
vs BC Division: 3-2
vs US Division: 2-0
Tigers Remaining Games vs Central Division (13)
Edmonton: Home 1; Away 2.
Lethbridge: Home1; Away 1.
Calgary: Home 1.
Red Deer: Home 1; Away 1.
Swift Current: Home 3; Away 2.