2019-20 WHL Season Previews: Medicine Hat Tigers

Medicine Hat Tigers: Last Season: 35-27-4-2 (4th in Central Division)

Despite a first-round playoff exit last season, the Medicine Hat Tigers were able to complete the regular season well above .500.

There have been plenty of off-season adjustments, which we note later in this piece. For certain, the powers-that-be are motivated to continue improving the results.

The Tigers have accumulated some skill at recent WHL Bantam Drafts, although it will be a couple of years before these youngsters have a significant impact. For now, the leadership group and coaching staff will have to parlay work ethic into the kind of efforts that will draw local fans to the Canalta Centre.

Last season, the Tigers were the least penalized team in the WHL by a wide margin with a total of 500 penalty minutes. The Moose Jaw Warriors were next at 644. However, when it came to putting the puck in the net, the Tigers were middle-of-the-pack producers, lighting the lamp 222 times.

James Hamblin, Medicine Hat Tigers (Photo: Pat Kempany)

With leading scorer James Hamblin back in the mix, Brett Kemp set for a full season in the Gas City, and Ryan Chyzowski looking to up his numbers, the current group should give opponents fits in the attacking zone. The forward group provides the coaching staff with tremendous depth.

At the other end of the rink, one of the true characters in the WHL, 6-foot-7 import goalie Mads Sogaard, will look to hold shooters at bay to give the Tigers a chance to win every night.

A scheduling quirk early in the season will test the young Tigers, as the city of Medicine Hat shares hosting duties with Swift Current to present the IIHF World U17 Hockey Challenge, November 2-9. The Tigers will travel through the B.C. Division early on, but the fortunes this season could depend on how well the team converts a plethora of home-ice opportunities during the last two thirds of the regular season schedule.

Losses

Gone are the 20-year-old players who finished the season in Medicine Hat – forward Ryan Jevne and defencemen Linus Nassen and Dylan McPherson. Goaltender Jordan Hollett, who would have had to crack the lineup as a 20-year-old, has left the WHL, electing to begin post-secondary education.

Additions

2018 first round Bantam picks Cole Sillinger (Photo: Andy Devlin)

The most interesting on-ice addition might be 16-year-old Cole Sillinger. The 6-foot, 187-pound rookie forward hung around last season after his Regina Pat Canadians completed play in the SMAAAHL. He appeared in four regular season games, then really made his presence felt during the first round of the playoffs.

With the departure of Hollett, the door appeared to be swung wide open for 17-year-old Garin Bjorklund to earn some WHL starts. Bjorklund, who checks in at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, is a big, physical presence in the crease. He played late into last season, advancing to the Telus Cup with the Calgary Buffaloes. Bjorklund also appeared in two games with the Tigers and earned the decision in both games, posting a .909 save percentage along the way.

Of course, the arrival of goaltender Evan Fradette, 18, from the Portland Winterhawks on September 6 crowds the crease.

Coincidentally, Fradette was named the AMHL playoffs MVP last season as a member of the St. Albert Raiders, who lost three straight games in the best-of-five league final to the Buffaloes. Fradette has certainly been in the news of late, traded by the Westside Warriors of the BCHL to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL. It is also noteworthy that the Tigers didn’t pay an enormous price to acquire Fradette, sending a 2021 conditional eighth round pick to Portland.

With Nassen graduating, an import spot opened and the Tigers selected Jonathan Brinkman-Andersen from Denmark at the 2019 CHL Import Draft. A speedy forward, he is a long-time friend of Sogaard.

Willie Desjardins returns for the 2019-20 season.

Behind the bench and behind a desk is new head coach and general manager, Willie Desjardins. He was hired at the end of May shortly after the Tigers released then head coach and general manager, Shaun Clouston. Clouston has since landed with the Kamloops Blazers. Desjardins, who is a very popular hockey figure in the Gas City, has a history of success in the WHL and was at the helm in three NHL cities over much of the past decade.

Goaltender coach Matt Wong was added to the coaching staff in late August, ostensibly to work with Sogaard and Bjorklund. Wong spent most of his coaching career in the AJHL and was part of the Brooks Bandits national championship team last spring.

In defence of the blue line brigade
With McPherson and Nassen aging out, the Tigers are young on the backend. This group might be Desjardins’ biggest construction project out of the gate. A pair of 19’s and a pair of 18’s will help, but this is a group that will have to make some big strides this season.

Damon Agyeman

Cole Clayton, 19, has 128 games under his belt. Eric Van Impe, 17, who came over from Spokane in a deal that also netted Ostir, is back for his second season, just 65 games into his WHL career. Damon Agyeman, also 17, appears ready to play a bigger role. Trevor Longo, 19, has only played 83 games during the past two seasons. Daniel Baker, 18, has appeared in 80 regular season games.

There is room for a youngster to crack the roster, perhaps presenting a valuable learning opportunity, if the skills are there, for a 16-year-old to actually play and develop if included this season. Does Aiden Brook get a chance? Rhett Parsons? Dru Krebs?

It looks like Krebs, featured by DUBNetwork during training camp, has cracked the lineup as a 16-year-old.

When this preview was submitted last week, it included  the following provisio: “The smart money suggests the Tigers, like a few other WHL Teams, will be shopping for an overage defenceman soon.”

This prediction came true on September 15 when the Tigers acquired 20-year-old Parker Gavlas from the Edmonton Oil Kings, in exchange for a 2021 fourth round draft pick. Presumable Gavlas became expendable in Edmonton when the Ottawa Senators returned Connor McDonald to the Oil Kings.

The leadership group
The Tigers finished last season with a surplus of 19-year-olds to choose from when composing its overage group for the 2019-20 campaign.

Hamblin has already been pegged as the team captain. Forward Tyler Preziuso has been penciled in as an assistant captain. This left Logan Christensen and Hayden Ostir battling for a 20-year-old spot and Christensen looks like the odd-man out.

The addition of Gavlas means another move will have to be made. One wonders about the Tigers’ options, as Ostir and Christensen are both capable of playing somewhere in the WHL. Might another deal be in the works?

Stay tuned.

Happy Anniversary
The Tigers organization is celebrating 50 years as a member of the WHL.

Already during the off-season, communications personnel have been tossing snippets of the storied history into the public domain, such as archived photos and alumni profiles. It’s heady stuff — some wonderful trips down memory lane.

Bob Ridley

Back in July, long-time radio broadcaster Bob Ridley was inducted into the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame. On that same occasion, the back-to-back Memorial Cup championship teams (1987 & 1988) were also inducted.

The alumni are impressive, from Lanny McDonald to Tom Lysiak to Kelly Hrudey. The likes of Dean Chynoweth and Rob DiMaio have had lengthy NHL careers, on and off the ice.

Indeed, the list is lengthy!

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