The antiquated Medicine Hat Arena has been the scene of countless memorable Western Hockey League contests since the doors opened way back in 1970.
And now the Tigers, the Arena’s major tenants since Day 1, may have played their final game in the old barn with the team scheduled to move into the brand spanking new Regional Event Centre this fall.
The Calgary Hitmen escaped the storied building with a 2-1 overtime victory Wednesday, thus grabbing a 3-1 chokehold on the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal. The series could be over tonight when the clubs tangle in Game 5 at Calgary, where a Hitmen win would mark the end of the Tigers’ lengthy association with the Arena.
“We’ll try not to think about it too much,” Tigers right winger Cole Sanford told Ryan McCracken of the Medicine Hat News following Wednesday’s outing.
“We’ll try to be positive and know that we’re going to force a Game 6. If we do that, I’m confident in the guys in the room.”
Naturally, the Hitmen have no interest in playing one more game in the Arena.
“We want this to be the last game in the building,” said Hitmen left winger Connor Rankin.
“We just need the next one on Friday.”
If Wednesday’s WHL contest was indeed the last to be hosted at the Arena, it will be remembered as one that offered a true oddity in that two penalty shots were called . . . during a span of 29 seconds and both in favour of the visitors.
Jake Virtanen beat Tigers netminder Marek Langhamer on the first free pass and Elliot Peterson failed to connect on the second penalty shot when he lost control of the puck.
“When that happened I mentioned on the bench, geez I’ve never seen that before,” said Rankin.
“It was really interesting,” Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston told McCracken.
“The second one was probably a good call, the first one, when I watched it I just didn’t see a penalty shot at all.”
Rookie centre Jordy Stallard won it for the Hitmen seven minutes into extra time, putting some major doubt into the notion that the Tigers will live to see another day in the Arena, let alone extend the series to seven games.
Medicine Hat captain Tyler Lewington, of course, wasn’t conceding defeat when being interviewed by McCracken.
“We’ve won three games before. We did it last year against Kootenay when we were down 3-1,” said Lewington. “We’ve just got to stay positive and believe that we can pull this out.”
Also on the ropes tonight are the Regina Pats and Victoria Royals, who trail their respective series 3-1 entering do-or-die road contests versus the Brandon Wheat Kings and Kelowna Rockets.
The Everett Silvertips visited the Portland Winterhawks Thursday with that Western Conference semifinal knotted at 1-1.
Kootenay Ice part ways with head coach Ryan McGill
Ryan McGill’s second association with the Kootenay Ice came to an end when team president and GM Jeff Chynoweth announced that he and the head coach have mutually agreed to part ways upon the June 30 expiration of McGill’s contract.
“Every coach has a shelf life,” Chynoweth told Taylor Rocca of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman Thursday morning. “I just look at the way our team is and the way we’re turning over for next year. We’re going to be one of the youngest teams in the league and I just think we need a new voice.”
McGill became the head coach of the Ice partway through the 1997-98 season while the club was still located in Edmonton.
He remained as the club’s bench boss through the 2001-02 season and then left Cranbrook for a head coaching position in the American Hockey League.
McGill eventually made his way to the NHL, serving two seasons as an assistant to then Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter, and returned to the Ice at the start of the 2012-13 WHL campaign. He had just completed the third season of his second tour of the duty with the club when Chynoweth decided to go in another direction.
“There are always lots of (head coach) candidates. There are coaches at every level of hockey,” said Chynoweth. “We’ve just got to make sure we get the right one. That’s a tough puzzle to put together. For us, we definitely have some ideas in mind of what we’re looking for and as the process goes along, we’ll take our time and see if we can get the right fit for our hockey club.
“Teaching is always important, especially when you’re dealing with today’s young players.
“Teaching and communication are always very important, whoever you hire in any position in your organization, not just the head coach.”
Ice assistant coach Jay Henderson, athletic therapist Cory Cameron and director of scouting Garnet Kazuik all see their contracts expire June 30 as well.
Chynoweth said he hopes to retain all three.