MEDICINE HAT, AB — It didn't come the way they drew it up, but the Medicine Hat Tigers are Central Division champions for the 2nd year in a row.
The Tabbies received a helping hand by the WHL’s last place team on Tuesday — the Edmonton Oil Kings thumped the Lethbridge Hurricanes 5-1 to mathematically eradicate the ‘Canes hopes of catching the Tigers.
Medicine Hat, meanwhile, lost a hard-fought battle of their own to the Calgary Hitmen 3-1. Dylan MacPherson recorded the lone tally for the Tigers, who fell to 35-27-8-0 on the season.
Tristen Nielsen, Riley Stotts, and Conner Chaulk scored for the 22-36-9-2 Hitmen.
Former Tiger Nick Schneider set a personal milestone in the victory as well. The overage Hitmen goaltender eclipsed Alexander Fomitchev’s club record of 3,371 minutes played in a single season. He was rock solid in the blue-paint, making 36 saves in his Canalta Centre farewell.
It took until the 3rd period for either team to find the scoreboard. Redcliff product Dylan MacPherson hammered home his 5th of the season 12 seconds in to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Approaching the midway mark of the 3rd, Tristen Nielsen burst down the left wing and snapped a high shot over the shoulder of Michael Bullion to lock it up 1-1.
Tyler Preziuso was handed a double-minor with just over seven minutes to play for slew-footing. Eight seconds later, Riley Stotts potted the eventual game winner on the power-play. Chaulk finished off the scoring, taking advantage of a pulled Bullion with 31 seconds to play.
Bullion was the busier of the ‘tenders in the opening frame. The overage net minder stopped all nine shots, including a breakaway opportunity by Jakob Stukel approaching the 15:00 mark. The Tigers closest opportunity in the first came on the power play — James Hamblin rang a close call from the slot off the cross-bar and out.
The scoreless theme held true through the second period as well, except the ice tilted in favour of the Tigers. Medicine Hat fired 14 shots on Schneider, but the former Tiger remained unfazed in his WHL leading 60th game of the season.
Hitmen assistant captain Mark Kastelic and Tigers forward Ryan Chyzwski dropped the mitts with seconds left in the middle frame. After about 20 seconds of a wild scrum to the left of the Hitmen crease, Kastelic landed a hard hand on the younger Chyzowski for the decision.
Medicine Hat's final two games of the season are both against the Lethbridge Hurricanes this weekend. Although the results will not differentiate the Tigers positioning in the playoffs, the Red Deer Rebels still have a chance to catch the 'Canes for 2nd in the division. Lethbridge and Red Deer are guaranteed to square off in the opening round, with the Tigers battling the eventual first wild-card finisher in the Eastern Conference, which is currently held by the Brandon Wheat Kings.
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