2015 started off with quite the bang.
The fates of Marek Langhamer and Tommy Vannelli were a bit up in the air. Langhamer was signed by Arizona, he could have moved up to the pro ranks, however Arizona acquired some goal-tending depth in the off-season, sending langhamer back to juniors which made him the last European goaltender in the whl.
Tommy Vannelli was sent back to the Tigers fairly early. We expected for him to compete for a spot in the AHL. Normally drafted 19 yr olds are ineligible to move up, but since he was drafted out of high school in the US, instead of the Tigers, he was eligible to move up to the AHL. The blues sent him back fairly early
With the stacked back-end, I think a lot of people expected to see Kyle Becker moved out as the last overager, but the Tigers went the other direction sending ppg forward Miles Koules To Portland. Koules was the biggest forward on the Tigers team at the time. The Tigers average size prior to the trade deadline was the smallest and lightest in the WHL.
The Tigers only lost once during the first 13 games of the season. They never gave up more than 2 goals for the first 1.5 months of the season.
Their defense and goal-tending was stingy ( we knew pre-season that their back-end would be stacked) , however it was their offense that surprised. The games weren't even close with the Tigers dominating in both ends of the rink.
In November up and coming defensive star Connor Hobbs left the team and demanded a trade. He was getting third line minutes as one of the younger players. He was traded at the deadline along with a 2nd and 3rd for Dryden Hunt, and Kyle Burroughs. Hobbs had an impressive last half of the season with the pats.
Season Of Injuries
The Tigers had injury troubles right from the get-go. It started with Anthony Ast injured pre-season
Markus Eisenschmid missed some time with a knee injury. Chad Butcher was out for a while with a couple concussions.
Mason Shaw was shutdown at christmas due to season ending knee surgery.
After christmas the defense core was ravaged by injury and suspension, at one point they needed to bring back Blake Penner as the Tigers only had 3 D eligible out of the 8 on the roster.
Kyle Becker(concussion), Tommy Vannelli(broken finger), missed significant time out of the lineup as well as Steven Owre out with a Broken Jaw. Marek Langhamer also missed some time with a hip/pelvic injury.
If I'm not mistake the Tigers only played 2 periods all regular season with a healthy lineup. If you count Mason Shaw, it's only 1 period all year. In game 2 against the rebels They had a full lineup, and in game 3 Butcher went down with a fractured hand. Butcher returned for games 4, and 5 of the Hitman series.
Just before Christmas the Tigers were fighting with Brandon for 1st place in the Eastern Conference, and had a big healthy lead over Calgary.
The Tigers made a splash in the trade markets acquiring key players Dryden Hunt, and Kyle Burroughs, trading away disgruntled defenceman Connor Hobbs, 2nd, and 3rd round draft picks.
Despite the New acquisitions making big impacts in the lineup, with the injuries the Tigers had been sustaining they were quickly falling down the standings.
In 2014 they amassed an impressive .730 winning percentage
In the New year it dropped to a .571 record
The New Year did not start out very well. They were crushed by Regina, a team the Tigers had just acquired 2 of their best players from. They were defeated on Rogers Sportsnet by vancouver who had the 3rd worst record in the league. They were also beat by Saskatoon(at the time had the worst record in the league), and back to back losses from Lethbridge(who also at the time had the worst record in the league)
However they did have bright spots as they beat the Kelowna Rockets in Kelowna which had the leagues #1 record. Their fall from grace allowed the Hitman back into the race and they ended up capturing the division banner.
The Tigers entered the playoffs back on a winning note with a 7-3 record in the last 10 games, including sending the Arena off in Typical Tiger Fashion with a 6-2 drubbing of the Saskatoon Blades.
Playoffs Round One
They didn't know their opponent until the very last game of the season, and the Red Deer Rebels came calling. It was a very tough series, with the Rebels owning the Tigers in the physicality department. Every game was a 1 goal game, with the Tigers getting the better of the puck luck taking the Rebels out in just 5 games. It was game 4 where the Tigers really adapted to the Rebels style of play. The rebels arguably had more puck possession time during the first 3 games, as they were putting lots of pressure on the Tigers defence.
It was a very low scoring series, luckily the Tigers top Line did most of the scoring needed.
5 games flattered the Tigers, as the Rebels Connor Bleakley wasn't 100% suffering from a groin injury that took him out in February.
In Round 2, the Hitman came calling as they took out Kootenay in Round 1 in 7 games. Due to conflicts with the Saddledome, they played a very weird schedule. a 1-2-1-1-1-1 format.
Game 1 the Tigers shot themselves in the foot. They came out with a bundle of nervous energy and gift-wrapped the hitman a 2-0 lead. The Tigers dominated the game, but Calgary shutdown the Tigers topline, and the Hitman snuck out with a 3-1 win. If the Tigers had won this game, this would have completely changed the outcome of the whole series.
Game 2 would see the Tigers only victory as an overtime shot from Centre Ice by Matt Staples would tie the Series.
Game 3 The Tigers stormed out of the gate with a quick 2-0 lead. After that they got a bit complacent as Calgary scored 5 straight goals en route to a 5-4 victory.
Game 4 was a heartbreaker. The Tigers played terrible during the first 2 periods, but came out on fire in the 3rd period and OT. Defensive breakdowns would cost them and the Hitman walked out with a 3-1 series lead. This heartbreaker would end up being the last WHL game played at the old arena.
Game 5 was another heartbreaker with Calgary scoring the series winning goal in double overtime.
Year In Review
Being honest this year left a sour taste in my mouth. I think its the first year in the last 13 where I felt the Tigers didn't perform to expectations. A 2nd round exit is not good enough.
It's easy to point fingers on coulda shoulda, but there are a few things I was hesitant about/didn't necessarily like.
I was a bit surprised on keeping Becker over Koules. Koules did have a poor start, but he also had poor starts the previous 2 seasons.One wonders if Becker was the odd guy out, if that would have meant Hobbs staying put and more offense and a bigger body from Koules. I didn't like the move for 2 reasons because at the time the defense was strong, and the Tigers issue was scoring and size up front.
I felt the Tigers didn't adequately address the size issue up front at the deadline. Their were bigger body players available that could put up a few points. Virtually none of their goals were garbage goals, which are important parts of any championship team, their size was just too small up front, and the Tigers had defenseman taking faceoffs, and joining rushes behind the opponents net occasionally.
They brought in hunt who scored some goals, but unfortunately something you can't predict the production from Chad Butcher and Markus Eisenschmid both suffered.
I felt round 2 was an example of how the Tigers year went. I felt their was a lot of complacency in their game. Bad Mistakes at key moments in the game haunted them when they lost. It seemed like the coaches would harp on the rookies if they made mistakes, but when the vets made a lazy play nothing was mentioned on the bench.. Not naming names there were some vets that at times needed benching with their lazy play.
The Tigers defense would often be forced to come in to protect sanford/cox and they took a beating over the course of the season. Lewington fought through injuries, and took on some tough fights early in the season. I don't know for sure but I expect he played through some pain this season.
Their PP never really clicked during the entire year and most often their PP would fail when they needed it most. Combine that with injury troubles and that seemed a recipe for a down year.
Like I said above coulda/shoulda/ #armchairGM
Next Year's Outlook coming up shortly. They have lots of decisions to make in the offseason.