On a Tuesday night in Medicine Hat when the Tigers organization celebrated the anniversary of its first Western Hockey League game, the hosts welcomed another storied franchise to Canalta Centre.
The Saskatoon Blades, an original WHL franchise, arrived in the Gas City after dismantling the Calgary Hitmen 9-3 Monday afternoon.
The mid-week contest between the Blades (7-4-0-1) and the Tigers (8-2-1) featured two of the top teams in the league so far this season. Each team entered the contest in second place in its respective division.
The Tigers had also flexed some offensive muscle on the holiday weekend, peppering the visiting Red Deer Rebels with 40 shots in a convincing 9-1 drubbing.
The first frame against the Blades featured a total of 28 shots on goal; 21 by the Tigers. However, both teams spent extended runs in the attacking zone. In fact, both teams seemed to be as efficient blocking attempted shots as the goaltenders were in stopping the shots that got through to the net.
Midway through the period, Cole Sillinger sent Brett Kemp in all alone, but he could not beat Nolan Maier. Maier later robbed Sillinger from point blank range with a quick blocker save.
Tigers netminder Mads Sogaard was also sharp, snapping an Eric Florchuk shot out of the air when the Blades forward found some open ice with his team a man short.
“That was a hockey team that has played a lot of hockey over the last week,” Tigers assistant coach Joe Fraser said of the Blades. “We talked about that.
“We wanted to use our speed, especially early to wear them down. We want to use our speed every night.”
Early pressure in the second period paid off for the Tigers.
Defenceman Daniel Baker, who has scored in three of the last four games, sifted a screened shot past Maier stick side to stake Medicine Hat to a 1-0 lead.
The Tigers took a 2-0 lead at 8:58 when Ryan Chyzowski picked up a loose puck, and his wraparound attempt bounced past Maier off Blades’ defenceman Libor Zabransky.
Rearguard Dru Krebs blew a shot past Maier 43 seconds later to make it 3-0 Medicine Hat. It was the 16-year-old rookie’s first WHL goal.
After the tally, Maier complained with some vigor that he had been interfered with, but the replay clearly showed the Blades goaltender was jostled well after the puck had entered the net.
“Yeah, it was big for momentum,” Krebs said when asked about his goal. “We ended up completely outplaying them after that. Any time you get a goal, it’s a huge confidence booster.”
The Blades, playing its fifth game in seven nights, looked like a frustrated bunch through 40 minutes, yet they were able to muster up a tally midway through the final frame.
Zach Huber took a dish from Riley McKay and ripped a rolling puck top shelf past Sogaard at 9:56 to make the final ten minutes interesting.
The Blades have played the most games in the WHL to date and have a doubleheader in Winnipeg against the Ice scheduled Saturday and Sunday.
“We’ll take a day off tomorrow, drive a little bit tonight,” said Blades head coach Mitch Love. “We’ll let the guys rest themselves mentally and physically. I’m always ready to evaluate our game and kind of see where we’re at and get ourselves ready for our next opponent.”
Sogaard finished the night with 24 saves while Maier blocked 48 shots.
Medicine Hat has outshot its opponent in every game this season. At Canalta Centre, the Tigers have averaged 41 shots per game (41.1) in seven starts. In four road games, the team has averaged well over 40 shots per outing (44.2).
While shots on goal can be broken down into scoring chances or even shot quality, the bottom line is the Tigers are spending a significant amount of time in the attacking zone so far this season. The opposition has held Medicine Hat under 40 shots on goal only three times this season.
The Tigers will play on the road for the next month, returning to Canalta Centre on Nov. 15 when the Edmonton Oil Kings come calling. In the interim, the Tigers play nine games away from home, five against B.C. Division teams. With the cities of Medicine Hat and Swift Current jointly hosting the 2020 IIHF U-17 World Hockey Challenge, the Tigers will also be using various rinks in the area for practice sessions.
Ice Chips…Three stars were Kemp, Chyzowski and Maier…The Tigers were 0-for-5 on the power play, while the Blades were 1-for-3…Kemp has collected a goal and seven assists in his last four games…Baker has compiled a four-game point scoring streak…Medicine Hat scratched C Noah Danielson and D Damon Agyeman. Saskatoon scratched LW Kjell Kjemhus and D Radek Kucerik…The Tigers are now 5-0 when scoring first and 5-0 when leading after 40 minutes. The Blades drop to 1-3 when trailing after two periods…Saskatoon has played 12 games and 10 have been decided by one goal…NHL scouts continue to attend Canalta Centre in droves, with the likelihood that Tigers Cole Sillinger continues to warrant viewings. Of course, Sillinger is not eligible until the 2021 NHL Draft…Early in the day Tuesday, 20-year-old James Hamblin, who leads the team in scoring with five goals and nine assists, was named the Vaughn CHL Player of the Week…Hamblin, the Tigers captain, had his five-game point streak halted by the Blades…Attendance at Canalta Centre was 2,469…The Tigers play in Calgary on Sunday afternoon, in Edmonton Oct. 25, then in Lethbridge Oct. 26 before heading west to British Columbia.