For the Daily Townsman...
Coyle looking for new life back in the Hat
by Jeff Bromley
Puck luck; the bounces; sustained momentum; call it what you will but the Medicine Hat Tigers insist they’re getting none of it through the first two games of their WHL Playoff quarter-final with the Kootenay Ice that now switches back to the Gas City for games three and four Tuesday and Wednesday.
Down 2-0 in the best-of-seven after lopsided losses to start the series Tiger blueliner Jace Coyle hopes his club’s fortunes change before it’s too late. “It’s been tough,” said the Cranbrook product, who finished the regular season second among Tiger d-men in scoring with 10 goals and 36 assists. “We just haven’t been getting the bounces that we need, especially around the net. Mathews has made some big saves for them but we just have to keep putting pucks on net and going hard to it.”
Contrary to the scouting report on the Ice goaltender going hard to the Ice net is something the Tigers have been doing little of over the first two games of the series, giving Mathews a relatively easy ride through two games. But they’re also trying to avoid a trip to the penalty box Coyle says, though usually that’s Mathews’ modus operandi. “We’re trying not to put ourselves in a position where the ref can make a call on us. Usually when it comes down to it they give the benefit of the doubt to the goalie so we’ve got to be smart about it.”
Coyle coach, Tiger bench boss Willie Desjardins, agrees that risking the referees wrath when it comes to the Ice crease isn’t on the agenda, at least not yet. “We’ve just left him alone,” said Desjardins. “We just want to play hard and not make it a factor.”
What has been a factor is that Mathews has clearly outplayed his younger counterpart in Tiger goaltender Tyler Bunz thus far. The importance of goaltending in the post-season notwithstanding, Bunz, who just turned 18 in February, has seen his stats balloon to a goals against average of 5.01 and a save percentage of .849. Desjardins however is not about to throw his goaltender under the bus, though the sophomore was pulled in favour of back-up Deven Dubyk in Game one. “He was okay last night too,” Desjardins said, giving his goaltender a vote of confidence. “I just took him out because I thought we needed a change (Friday) but he played okay.”
“They’re just scoring on their chances. We have our chances but we’re just not scoring. If we score it’s totally different. They’ve capitalized and they’ve totally outplayed us. They’re a good team and they outplayed us here. We’ll go home and try to regroup.”
Coyle agreed that his home away from home the past two seasons should make a difference in the series. “We need to start putting pressure on their defence,” Coyle said. “It’ll definitely help being back in our barn with good crowd and a lot of energy there. This is a tough building to play in.”
Quick Hits – Despite Coyle’s remarks about the Rec Plex being a tough building to play in it might’ve been harder if it was somewhat fuller. Friday’s crowd of 2335 was the second-smallest crowd to witness a regular season or playoff game in the building’s ten-year history. The smallest being the 2312 in game four of the 2004 playoffs, a sweep at the hands of the Kelowna Rockets. Saturday’s was marginally better, attracting 2452.
Ice take 2-0 series lead over Tigers
By Jeff Bromley
Heading into the WHL Playoffs the scouting report on Kootenay Ice goaltender Todd Mathews was simple: get in his crease, get in his face and get him off his game. Down 2-0 in their WHL Playoff Quarter-final the Medicine Hat Tigers might not have got the memo.
Surrendering only two goals in the first two games Mathews backstopped his club to a 2-0 series lead after wins of 6-2 and 4-0 in game one and two at the Cranbrook Rec Plex over the weekend. The best-of-seven series switches to the Arena Tuesday and Wednesday for games’ three and four. “I don’t know if I’m going to shoot myself in the foot for saying this but (Saturday) was probably the easiest shut-out I’ve had, ever,” said Mathews after dumping the Tigers 4-0 Saturday in which he stopped 20 shots and only two in the third period. “But really, it’s because of our defence. We didn’t give up very many key opportunities except maybe one pretty good one in the first period and maybe a couple in the second but no breakaways, no odd-man rushes and even if there were the forwards are hustling back to prevent anything from happening.”
What was happening was the Ice was shutting down the WHL’s second-most potent offense behind only the goalfest in Brandon and they were doing it without some major heroics from their goaltender.
On Friday the Tigers struck first and took a 1-0 lead on a goal by likely NHL first-round draft pick Emerson Etem but the Ice answered back five minutes later on Kevin King's first of the playoffs. Matt MacKay put the Tigers up 2-1 but with 30 seconds later Matt Fraser tied the game at two for the Ice to send the club’s even headed into the break. Sparked by the tying goal the Ice scored an early power play goal and were off to the races, scoring three more to make the final 6-2. Saturday night two goals by King along with singles by Max Reinhart and Elgin Pearce paced the Ice to a 4-0 win. “We’ve been good in our end and we’ve been good from our end out,” said Ice head coach Mark Holick. “We’re getting contributions from other people to score some goals and you need that to win in the playoffs. Having said that, this is far from over. The last time I looked you still had to win four to win a series.”
Choosing his words carefully in order to ward off any signs of over confidence, for the Medicine Hat Tigers hopes are those words are prophetic as a loss Tuesday night would almost certainly spell an first round exit. And while good goaltending is usually key for teams to win in the playoffs, the lack of it from Tiger starter Tyler Bunz – chased from the nets in game one after surrendering four goals on 24 shots – has been the early difference in the series, though Tigers head coach wasn’t placing all the blame on his goaltender. “He was okay last night too,” Desjardins said. “I just took him out because I thought we needed a change (Friday) but he played okay.”
“They’re just scoring on their chances. We have had our chances but we’re just not scoring. If we score it’s totally different. They’ve capitalized and they’ve totally outplayed us. They’re a good team and they outplayed us here. We’ll go home and try to regroup.”
Ice forward Kevin King, with three goals in the first two games, says his club is playing with a special confidence that’s helping the puck find the back of the net. Given his first goal, a five-on-three shot from the slot that he didn’t get all of yet it still went in, along with his second power play goal – a high rebound knocked down and scored from a near-impossible angle – goes a ways in substantiating that theory. “There wasn’t a lot of room from what I saw but I guess the stick sees a different angle,” said King. “But he’s a young goaltender and we’re going to try and get as many pucks to the net as we can. Playoffs are a different season than the regular season and younger guys sometimes have a tougher time.”
Quick Hits – Holick was named the Eastern Conference nominee for the WHL Coach of the Year award. He'll face-off against Everett's Craig Hartsburg... Ice forward Matt Fraser, 19, was named the club's Humanitarian of the Year after helping raise $14,000for EK Regional Hospital Foundation this season. His name will stand for the WHL and CHL award to be named April 28... D Brayden McNabb was named to the WHL's first all-star team while LW Dustin Sylvester got the nod for the second All-star team... C Elgin Pearce, 17, of Vancouver is enjoying a break-out playoffs with a goal and two assists in the series’ first two games… Friday’s crowd of 2335 was the second-smallest crowd to witness a regular season or playoff game in the building’s ten-year history. The smallest being the 2312 in game four of the 2004 playoffs, a sweep at the hands of the Kelowna Rockets. Saturday’s was marginally better, attracting 2452… If necessary game five goes back at the Rec Plex Friday night.