Medicine Hat, AB — With the summer coming to a close, we embark on the 48th season of Tigers hockey. The players will be arriving into the city and the ice is being installed for the 3rd edition of the Tigers in the Canalta Centre.
Last season the Tigers had a historic year going 51-20-1-0 winning their first Central Division Pennant in 10 years. The season was the 4th best in franchise history and just the 4th time in team history the Tigers reached the 50+ win mark. Medicine Hat swept the reigning WHL Champions, Brandon Wheat Kings in the opening round of the playoffs. In the second round they met the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the teams had a series for the ages. Having not met each other in the post season since 1991, the Tigers had the early upper hand but the series would end up going the distance. Medicine Hat fell in overtime in that final Game 7, but held their heads high moving into 2017-18 with some unfinished business.
With 6 rookies in the lineup the Tigers were one of the older teams that brought lots of speed and skill to every game. Led by 5 year Tiger veterans Chad Butcher and Steven Owre along with Captain Clayton Kirichenko the Tigers pulled together to generate the Western Hockey League’s most potent offense, scoring 350 times (the most since 1992).
Now the torch has been passed onto the 6 overage players (eligible to return) this season which includes leading goal scorer Mark Rassell and newly NHL drafted forward Zach Fischer. The roster will still be loaded with young talent as 18 players are eligible to return.
Let’s take a look at the players to watch for the 2017-2018 season.
|#18 Mason Shaw
Shaw had an incredible 2016-17 campaign. At one point during the season the feisty forward lead the entire Canadian Hockey League in assists. Mason would finish with 94 points on the year, smashing previous career highs. His ability to go into the hard areas, work hard and never back down attitude made the Minnesota Wild pick the Alberta native in this past year’s NHL Entry Draft. It will be interesting who Shaw will play with in 17-18 as both his line mates for the majority of last season are gone (Bradley traded, Dahlstrom signed in Europe). But expect Mason to anchor the power play and the Tigers top line, he should reach the 100 point plateau this season.
|#27 Mark Rassell
When your leading goal scorer is eligible to return for another season, it usually marks a good sign for your team. For Rassell he led the entire Tigers team last year with 36 goals, destroying his previous career high of 13 set in 15-16. Rassell was bigger, faster and stronger in 16-17 leading to lots of chances around the net and on special teams. Mark along with James Hamblin created lots of opportunities while on the penalty kill. Rassell scored 7 times shorthanded for the Tigers, that number led the entire Western Hockey League. Mark’s skill set, hard work and size will be a big factor moving into 17-18 for the Calgary born forward to be competitive and set new career highs. Rassell’s line mates Max Gerlach and Hamblin can return, re-creating the chemistry they had all season long in 16-17.
|#19 David Quenneville
It was an unfortunate ‘break’ for defenseman David Quennevile in 2016-17 as the offensively gifted d-man suffered a broken leg and missed 23 games. At the time of the injury Quenneville led all Western Hockey League defenseman in scoring, however, despite the injury Quenneville still managed to record 1.20 points per game (59 points in 49 games). David is a spirited player, always wearing his heart on his sleeve. The New York Islanders draft pick will have lots to prove heading into 17-18 as Tiger fans will rely on him to be the power play quarterback and blast pucks home. His 16 power play goals were second on the team despite missing two months of action. David is very offensively gifted and look for the Edmonton native to have a healthy season and increase his point totals on a lethal Tigers power play.
|#39 Zach Fischer
A fan favorite in 2016-17 Fischer’s only big change in his game was the number on his jersey. During a Feb. 25, 2017 game Fischer gave up his number 9 for the retirement of Tom Lysiak’s jersey and donned a brand new number in Tigers history becoming the first ever to wear 39. Fischer however also had an incredible season. Zach grew bigger and stronger in the off season and was out to prove his worth. Fighting, scoring, play making and using his large 6’2 frame to knock his opponents around had Fischer a player to always look for on the ice. 2016-17 also marked a healthy season for Fischer as he battled long term injuries in his first two seasons. The Lloydminster, AB native scored 34 times and added 29 assists for 63 points. He led the entire Western Hockey League in penalty minutes for majority of the season and finished the year with 145, the highest since the 2011-12 season. Fischer will be a force in his overage season fresh off being drafted by the Calgary Flames in June. Expect Fischer to be prominent on the power play and bring his physical style of play to each and every game.
|#10 James Hamblin
Hamblin had a breakout season in 16-17 as he showed Tigers fans why their club selected him in the 1st Round of the 2014 Bantam Draft. James didn’t let his size put a damper on his game as he showed grit and hustle and wasn’t afraid to go into the corners. His chemistry centering a line with Mark Rassell and Max Gerlach created chances on a nightly basis. Hamblin recorded 47 points including his first 20+ goal season (23). James also scored 4 times shorthanded which was second on the team, he and Rassell were hard to stop on the penalty kill netting them chance after chance. Expect Hamblin this season to be a reliable player for the Tigers defensively and contribute more offensively including some big power play minutes.
|#16 Max Gerlach
Gerlach is coming off his 2nd consecutive 30+ goal season. He will look to become the first Tiger since fellow countryman Emerson Etem to score 30+ goals in three straight seasons. Gerlach has a knack for the net and a knack for putting the puck in the net. His quick release catches goaltenders off guard on a given night and when accurate can put the puck in places goalies never knew existed. Gerlach set new career highs all the while focusing on a more defensive game improving his plus/minus as well. Gerlach was dynamic on the Tigers first power play unit being setup 17 times with the man advantage, a big reason why the Tigers power play was ranked 2nd in the Western Hockey League. Those 17 goals also were 2nd in the entire league just 2 behind Tyler Steenbergen from Swift Current. Expect Gerlach to be an offensive weapon for the Tigers, especially if he and line mates Rassell and Hamblin can find the chemistry they had in 2016-17.
|#6 Dylan MacPherson
MacPherson might be the most interesting case heading into the 2017-18 season. After coming onto the scene for a 6 game appearance in 2015-16, MacPherson made the jump full time in 2016-17. He was in and out of the lineup early on but later became a main stay on the blue line, eating up big minutes down the stretch and into the playoffs. Dylan has good speed and agility and rarely gets beat down low. He is defensively responsible but can move the puck quickly to the forwards. MacPherson only had 9 points last season but expect ‘Mac’s’ offensive potential to show as he earns more power play time and eats more minutes. His leadership skills and ‘never back down’ mentality will big huge for the younger defenseman as he now becomes one of the older veterans on the Tigers blue line this season.
|#22 Tyler Prezuiso
Preziuso was one of the 13 skaters on the Tigers who set new career highs last year. It was great to see Preziuso contribute some big goals throughout the season and even showed flashes of his toughness, dropping the mitts on several occasions. Preziuso is a high flying talent for the Tigers who could have another breakout year. At just 18 years old Tyler has tons left to give and a few more years to develop into a reliable offensive player. Look for Preziuso to move up the depth chart this season and get some time on special teams, especially the penalty kill given his electric speed.
Rookies to watch during training camp:
- Mick Kohler (98) F – 2017 1st Round Import Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (Kolner EC U19): 31GP – 16G – 44A – 60PTS
- Josh Williams (01) F – 2016 1st Round Bantam Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (Yale Hockey Academy): 27GP – 18G – 37A – 55PTS
- Henry Rybinski (01) F – 2016 2nd Round Bantam Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (Greater Vancouver Canadians): 37GP – 17G – 29A – 46PTS
- Duncan McGovern (00) G – 2015 5th Round Bantam Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (Dauphin Kings): 8GP – 4.27GAA – 0.881SV%
- Cole Clayton (00) D – 2015 3rd Round Bantam Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (UFA Bisons Midget AAA): 34GP – 6G -13A – 19PTS
- Trevor Longo (00) D – 2015 6th Round Bantam Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (Vancouver NW Giants): 40GP – 11G – 26A – 37PTS
- Michael Johnson (00) F – 2015 5th Round Bantam Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (Calgary Northstars Midget AAA): 31GP – 15G – 11A – 26PTS
- Daniel Baker (01) D – 2016 2nd Round Bantam Draft Pick
- 2016-17 Stats (Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep): 28GP – 7G – 18A – 25PTS
Training Camp starts Friday morning at the Canalta Centre. The first ice time will kick off the 48th year of Tigers hockey. Head Coach Shaun Clouston and his staff will have to make tough decisions to pick this years edition of your Medicine Hat Tigers!