MEDICINE HAT – For the second time in the past three nights and the third time this season, the Medicine Hat Tigers and Calgary Hitmen had to settle their differences in overtime.
And on this rare occasion that saw a Monday night affair in the Western Hockey League, the Hitmen waltzed into Co-Op Place in the Gas City and earned a 5-4 shootout decision.
“I thought it was pretty good,” said Tigers general manager and head coach Willie Desjardins post-game. “For us to get five out of six points, that’s a good accomplishment for us.”
Medicine Hat won Friday at home by a 4-1 count, then edged Calgary 6-5 in overtime Saturday night. All told during this most irregular season, the Tigers went 4-1-0-1 in six games against the Hitmen.
“I thought we put ourselves in a tough spot a couple of times tonight,” Desjardins continued. “But, we were able to find a way to get out of it. It was just a tough game, but all in all for us to get five out of six, that’s a good weekend.”
Calgary opened the scoring at 7:46 with some nifty puck movement when its veteran forward line of Sean Tschigerl, Josh Prokop and Riley Fiddler-Schulta gained the blueline. Tschigerl showed great skill in taking a pass from Prokop off his skate, before sliding the puck past Tigers goaltender Garin Bjorklund.
Tschigerl, who played in Medicine Hat for Hockey Canada at the World U17 Hockey Challenge, has garnered a C-rating from Central Scouting for the 2021 NHL Draft. He would later add another goal for the Hitmen, on a night where he was a consistent offensive threat.
The hosts answered quickly, two minutes later, after creating a loose puck deep in the attacking zone. Brett Kemp dished out front to Corson Hopwo, who fended off a Calgary defender and deked Jack McNaughton stick side for his 10th of the campaign.
“Definitely, the ten months off helped a lot for building strength and quickness,” said Hopwo, who has become an important veteran leader on and off the ice. “I went into the off-season wanting to get bigger and stronger and I think I achieved that.”
When Calgary took a pair of minor penalties 27 seconds apart near the midway point of the second period, the Tigers veteran-laden power play asserted itself and capitalized 30 seconds into the 5-on-3 powerplay.
Lukas Svejkovsky fed the puck to Cole Clayton and the overage defenceman went cross-ice to Kemp, who buried a one-timer along the ice past McNaughton at 8:57 for his eighth of the season.
Calgary evened the score at 14:24. Cael Zimmerman, who earlier in the frame took the slashing minor that put the Hitmen down two skaters, atoned for his indiscretion when he jumped on a rebound and slid the puck under Bjorklund.
Then a few shifts later, Zimmerman caught Kemp with an accidental high stick that dropped Kemp in front of the Tigers bench. The foul went unchecked by the officials, then shortly afterward at the end of the period, the teams exchanged pleasantries in a scrum at the top of the Tigers crease.
When the smoke cleared from the melee, a handful of minor penalties were doled out and the teams began the third period tied at 2-2 with the Hitmen enjoying a lengthy 5-on-3 power play.
While the Tigers power play had success on the night, that has been the norm. Motoring along at a 40-percent clip before puck drop Monday, a cool 18-for-45 to lead the entire WHL, the Tigers went 2-for-5 with the man advantage Monday night.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Hitmen entered the contest without a power play goal this season, a dreadful 0-for-43 through 13 games.
But that all changed 1:18 into the final frame as Calgary’s season-long power play futility came to an end. Orca Wiesblatt corralled a loose puck from a scramble in front of the Tigers net and ripped home his second of the season to give Calgary a 3-2 lead.
The teams exchanged tallies before the midway mark of the period when Tigers rookie Oren Shtrom scored his second of the season to make the count 3-3. Tschigerl replied with his second of the contest to stake Calgary to a 4-3 lead.
Shtrom added his second of the night with 5:47 to play while Tyson Galloway was serving a delay of game minor. The Arizona product took a pass from Eric Van Impe and swept a backhander past McNaughton to tie the contest at 4-4.
Overtime solved nothing and the Hitmen scored twice in the shootout to seal the verdict.
The Tigers now 9-3-0-1 in this irregular 24-game season, have gone 5-0-0-1 in its last six games. The team’s overall record includes six regulation victories and three wins in overtime. A pair of two-goal setbacks against the Edmonton Oil Kings and a two one-goal defeats to Calgary represent the blemishes. The Tigers have outscored opponents 57-40.
Medicine Hat and Calgary are done with each other for the time being, barring a chance post-season meeting should the WHL create some kind of divisional or conference playoff structure.
The Tigers travel to Lethbridge Friday to face the Hurricanes at the Enmax Centre. Puck drop is 7:00pm.
Ice Chips…The DUBNetwork three stars were Shtrom (great energy all night and a nose for the net with the game on the line), Tschigerl (ever the opportunist) and Bjorklund (enough big saves to give his mates a chance to win)…The Tigers were outshot 45-33…Calgary went 1-for-4 on the powerplay, while the Tigers were 2-for-5…Riley Fiddler-Schultz finished with three assists for Calgary. Josh Prokop chipped in with two helpers…Bjorklund finished with 41 saves. McNaughton blocked 29 shots…Next home game for the Tabbies is Saturday at Co-Op Place, 7:00pm against the Hurricanes.
(Glen Erickson is a long-time freelance writer with ties to the WHL over the past 35 years and has published over 200 articles for DUBNetwork. He covered the WHL extensively in Kelowna between 2005 and 2019, in addition to four CHL Top Prospects Games and a pair of IIHF World Junior Championships. Erickson provided coverage of Rockets home games for the Kelowna Daily Courier during the 2018-19 season, before relocating to Medicine Hat.)