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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Medicine Hat Tigers

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The Medicine Hat Tigers have roared all the way up to ninth in the latest Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.

Running a five-game win streak including recent victories over the Moose Jaw Warriors, Saskatoon Blades, and Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Tigers improved to 19-7-1-0 on the season. The 19 wins ranks first in the entire WHL however the 39 points put them three back of Edmonton in the Central Division race with three games in hand.

Leading the pack for the Tigers is captain and fifth-year forward James Hamblin, who through 27 appearances has recorded 42 points counting 17 goals and 25 assists to sit tied for first in league scoring.

Hamblin’s offensive acumen was on display over the past week as he posted back-to-back three-point efforts, including a two-goal, one-assist showing against the Warriors that powered his club to a 6-0 road victory in which he earned first-star honours.

Also up front with the veteran-laden group is 19-year-old centre Brett Kemp, who has come up with nine multi-point performances this season, including a two-goal, two-assist effort against the Hurricanes on Tuesday that helped his side earn an 8-3 victory. Other key offensive contributors like 19-year-old centre Ryan Chyzowski as well as tantalizing rookie Cole Sillinger, who is scoring above a point-per-game pace with 10 goals and 13 assists through 22 contests, round out the Tigers’ forward ranks in providing plenty of secondary scoring punch.

Medicine Hat’s offensive prowess made no better display than in Tuesday’s victory when its five-forward power play unit capitalized three times to improve to a league-leading 26.4% efficiency on the man advantage.

“We’re kind of in a battle with (Lethbridge) and Edmonton for the top of our division, so I think it was huge to take it to them like we did tonight,” Chyzowski told Ryan McCracken of the Medicine Hat News following the win. “We didn’t want to let them back us down or be intimidated by their physicality because that’s a big part of their game. I think it was great to see the boys stepping up and going back at them. I think it really shut them down and gave us energy.

“Our power play has been unreal this year. We’re five pretty skilled players that can kind of ad-lib out there. (Assistant coach Ryan Smith) gives us structure, then we kind of work with it and play with it. I think that’s been going good for us. It’s a huge part of our game.”

On the back end, the Tigers roll out a modest defensive core that counts four rearguards who have reached double-digit points through the first portion of 2019-20, tied for the most amongst any WHL club. Leading the charge is Edmonton native and sophomore Daniel Baker, who after finishing with 17 points last season has already surpassed that total this year in collecting seven goals and 12 assists through 27 appearances. Other key contributors like Cole Clayton, Eric Van Impe, and Trevor Longo, all of whom have spent at least two seasons with the club, round out Medicine Hat’s blue line brigade.

No discussion about the Tigers is complete however without highlighting the squad’s star between the pipes in Danish netminder Mads Sogaard. Following a successful 2018-19 campaign in which he earned WHL Eastern Conference Second All-Star Team recognition and was later selected in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators, Sogaard has continued his strong play this season. Through 19 appearances, the hulking goaltender has come away with an 11-6-1-0 showing paired with a 2.73 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.

For the opposition, it’s always a tough night when facing the Tigers as the club rolls out a dominant presence in the blue paint. Beyond Sogaard, Medicine Hat also boasts rookie keeper Garin Bjorklund who projects as a mid-round selection in the coming NHL Draft in Montreal per Central Scouting’s Players to Watch report for November. This season, the Calgary product has suffered a lone regulation loss through 10 appearances to come away with an 8-1-0-0 showing, 2.40 goals-against average, and a spectacular .916 save rate that ranks fourth among freshmen netminders.

There’s no question returning head coach Willie Desjardins has the Tigers on the prowl with the goal of making the club’s 50th season something special.

They’ll look to continue their winning ways with weekend dates against the Hurricanes and Everett Silvertips before heading east to face off with the Blades and Prince Albert Raiders.

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