Pre-season the Hurricanes were picked as early season favorites; however, problems in their dressing room changed their season drastically. GM Peter Anholt stripped their core roster down and completely rebuilt the team, trading away 8 key returning players. Anholt was even fined during the season for public comments regarding players that he traded away.
As a surprising result the Hurricanes went from a team floundering, to one of the hottest teams in the league during the New Year. Despite 3 losses to the Tigers in the second half, the Hurricanes pulled off a .721% winning percentage and were the hottest team in the league down the stretch.
Pre-season the Tigers were slated as the underdog competitor to Lethbridge We knew they would have a top caliber offense and goal-tending coming into the season. The question mark was on their defensive side of the game as it was pretty abysmal in their previous season of missing the playoffs.
With the acquisitions of their 19yr old imports their was simmered hope that by seasons end they could compete with the top dogs!
The regular season turned out incredibly well. The Tigers went through some growing pains mid-season when Kristians Rubins went down with an injury and Nick Schneiders hot start turned into getting pulled multiple times in consecutive games. Yet those were yet some minor flaws during a season where the Tigers plowed through their opposition with 3 scoring lines and scored a remarkable 350 times this season. Who needs defense?
The Tigers only had 1 less win than in their WHL championship record setting season of 06-07.
This team turned into and were considered heavy favorites for the first 2 playoff rounds.
Despite the Close distance and the longtime rivalry the Canes and Tigers have only met once previously in the playoffs. In the '90-91' season both teams were powerhouses in the conference and the Canes pushed the Tigers out in the 7th game during round 3.
This season was similar, however The tigers had soundly beaten the Canes3 times during the second half. The Hurricanes also had a whole line out with injuries. It was 3 Scoring Lines of the Tigers Vs 1 Scoring Line of the Hurricanes. On paper This was a series that should have been over before it started.
Unfortunately or fortunately for the Hurricanes they became victims of the injury bug. The bug hit them hard as their previous 7 game series with Red Deer took a big toll into their series with Medicine Hat.
During the series among the key Hurricanes man games lost to injury included: Ryan Vandervlis missed the final 2 games, Overage Zak Zborosky missed 5 games, Overager Matt Alfaro missed all 7 games, Zane Franklin missed 5 games, Calen Addison missed 5 games
Hurricanes were forced to dress 5 affiliate players including 15 yr old Dylan Cozens and he picked up 5 points in 6 games. Koletrane Wilson, Connor Lyons, Shawn Harke, Jayden Davis also saw icetime.
Why the Games Aren't Played on Paper
Call it poor coaching, unable to take advantage of an injury riddle opposition, pure Hurricane Will, flawed hockey strategy, or just bad luck. With the Canes having 5 regulars out of the lineup (2 of them Overagers) this was a David vs Goliath match-up.
The Tigers stormed out of the gate demolishing the Canes in the first game. Lethbridge Hurricanes Captain Tyler Wong, directly and honestly came out publicly and ripped his team for having an embarrassing performance and it changed the outcome of the entire series. Tyler Wong's determination and will encapsulated their entire team, and they emerged victorious in the battlefield of Skill vs HardWork.
Wong & Estephan Show
The whl doesn't count minutes played in their stats, but if they had I wouldn't be surprised to see Hurricanes Captains Tyler Wong & Giorgio Estephan above 27-28 minutes a game with the 2 overtime games that were played. That is pretty much unheard of at the forward position.
These 2 Players combined for virtually half their offense, scoring 12 of the Hurricanes 26 goals during the series. The stamina and strength these 2 showed picked everyone up on the Hurricanes bench and they played with ferocious determination to stall an opposition team that was lathered in offensive talent.
I hated him during the series but you can't help to become a big fan of Tyler Wong after all the hardships he went through with lethbridge the previous seasons. He put this years team on his back and lifted everyone else up. It isn't easy having affiliate players getting ice-time and beating PointPerGgame 18-19 yr old WHL veterans but through his leadership and the Hurricanes strong coaching that is what they were able to do.
I watched the webcast and saw 2 interviews from the Hurricanes which I felt summed up how they won.
Rebel broadcaster Cam Moon interviewed Head Coach Brent Kisio with an in period interview after the Tigers went up 4-3 during Game 7. He simply stated that his team will come back, that is what they do.
Moon also interviewed Hurricanes Captain Tyler Wong and I think Tyler Wong said it best. He directly and honestly said (paraphrasing here) the Tigers cheated offensively and Lethbridge hopes to take advantage of that. He was true to his words.
The Hurricane Captain generated a 3 on 2 shorthanded rush after the Tigers cheated offensively with 4 forwards and a defenceman. Perhaps the Tigers were a bit Unaware of their defensive responsibilities, thinking goal scoring and not defensively on a powerplay like their mindset has been all season. But the Canes generated a 3 on 2 shorthanded rush, that led to Tyler Wong scoring the series Clincher and game winning heartbreaker.
The series was so close, the Tigers came so close to winning. It was both very fun and very nerve-racking to watch. The type of hockey that you wonder if the players just acted out a scripted show between 2 longtime rivals.
The Canes outworked and out-willed the Tigers with less than half their talent. They pulled the old strategy of strong goal-tending, collapsing down low, preventing prime chances in the slot, clearing rebounds and let the Tigers shoot themselves in the foot with their tendency to cheat offensively and being a bit too panicky on defense.
Lethbridge managed to reduce the Tigers strength of speed and pretty passing plays in tight to generate chances.
Props to the Hurricanes. I thought eventually a team would expose the Tigers defensively, but I didn't think the Canes had near the team to do it especially with a number of core players out of the lineup. I am still in shock and disbelief that the Hurricanes won
I felt the canes managed to expose the Tigers outdated hockey philosophy that mobility and speed will win games. It may overwhelm mediocre teams in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different story.
.The canes showed that they had the unsung heroes with the emergence of 15yr old Dylan Cozens. Their grit, team-play, and hardwork of Tyler Wong and CO hung on for dear life and managed to outlast the attrition to injuries and skill of the Tigers team.
As a longtime fan I feel so sorry for some of the overagers on this team. One minute they are battling in game 7 with expectations of at least another playoff round or two and the next second their junior hockey careers are over.
Steven Owre, Clayton Kirichenko, and Chad Butcher were all huge parts of this team. It still feels like yesterday when we were discussing in the comments how we thought both Owre/Butcher would turn out to be very good players after their 16 yr old years.
Clayton Kirichenko had an amazing year and improved leaps and bounds. IMO he turned out to be the best defenceman on this years squad hands down, and I would be shocked if he isn't offered a pro deal. His game took off in the second half and I think he is worthy of a 3 year pro deal.
Brief Season Review
Tigers acquired 2 key pieces at the traded deadline in Michael Bullion and Jordan Henderson. Both players arrived on Hot streaks and it felt like the Tigers had solved some pieces to the puzzle. However by round 2 their Hot-Streaks had slowed and they ran into a team determined to never say die.
Overall I'm slightly disappointed with the Tigers season. I think a successful year would be a 3rd round appearance. The Tigers were more talented than a round 2 exit.
The Tigers should be proud of all that they accomplished in the regular season. It is remarkably hard to win more than 50 games a season. However in terms of overall satisfaction it leaves a bittersweet feeling.
Now this in my personal opinion, but I feel like they need to adapt their hockey philosophy and take a better look at their defensive side of the game. They have the speed game down pat but I feel their coaches need to do a better job of teaching their players defensive smarts, positioning in the defensive zone and recognizing potentially dangerous situations. I feel that it has always been the Tigers biggest weakness and I feel that this weakness has cost them dearly the last couple seasons.
As a Tiger Fan who demands excellence, I am disappointed that I feel like this is the 3rd year in a row where they have slightly under-performed when it comes to their overall potential and talent level.
We enjoy and are greatly appreciative in the fact that the Tigers are competitive year after year, and that they have missed the 2nd round of the playoffs only twice in the last 15 years.
However is that what us fans really want? Second Round exits in the playoffs? It has now been 10 seasons since the Tigers have reached the WHL Final.
As a Tiger Fan I'm thankful for all the coaches have done, but I want a championship....