It’s hard to believe that less than one year ago, the Medicine Hat Tigers were struggling to stay afloat — especially when you consider this year’s squad, with 15 of the same players, has already clinched.
The Tabbies shook up the 'Dub last spring with an incredible postseason push, stringing together eight victories in their final 11 games to force a playoff tiebreaker with the Edmonton Oil Kings, only to fall on home ice in the game that mattered most.
It was one hell of a run. The Tigers even managed to erase a deficit with a pair of quick goals in the final two minutes of a pivotal game against the Oil Kings to steal away a 5-4 victory in March — had it even gone to overtime, there would have been no tiebreaker. It marked the seventh straight victory over Edmonton in that regular season. While the Oil Kings stole away the tiebreaker, the Tigers seem to have learned a lot from the experience — namely, never take your foot off the gas.
“It’s nice, but at the same time we still need to finish in the best spot possible. We want to be in the top spot, so there’s definitely some work to be done,” said assistant captain Steven Owre, whose Tigers clinched the playoffs with Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Victoria Royals. “We didn’t even know until we were at dinner afterwards. It was pretty cool.”
This year has been vastly different. The Tabbies jumped to the height of the Central Division standings early and have yet to budge. All 14 of the team’s returning skaters have already achieved career numbers in point production while Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston infused just enough new blood into the system to complete the picture.
Imports John Dahlstrom and Kristians Rubins have been stellar in their rookie WHL seasons, while a pair of recent trades sent goaltender Michael Bullion and defenceman Jordan Henderson to Medicine Hat — both of whom have been posting career-best statistics since pulling on the orange and black sweater.
Rookie forward Gary Haden and Ryan Chyzowski have allowed the Tigers’ four lines of competent goal scorers while new blueliners Dalton Gally and Dylan MacPherson have been keeping the train on the rails with star defencemen David Quenneville and Ty Schultz both nursing broken legs.
While starting goaltender Nick Schneider has been having a shaky start to 2017, it’s worth noting that he was the team’s strongest player in last year’s postseason push. Schneider has seen a number of his starts go to Bullion since the start of January, but pressure and adversity tend to have a positive effect on the 19-year-old Calgary Flames prospect.
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