Tigers opt to play with seven defencemen after release of Heathcote, return of Craven
Medicine Hat Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston says the team will be utilizing seven defencemen for the time being following the return of blueliner Joel Craven, the reassignment of winger Dawson Heathcote and a lingering injury to centre Elijah Brown.
Brown has been missing from the lineup since suffering a shoulder injury in a 4-2 loss to the Saskatoon Blades on Nov. 13, while Heathcote was sent to his hometown Nanaimo Buccaneers Thursday. While the resulting situation leaves the Tigers up one defenceman and down one forward, Clouston says he’s happy to give his young defensive corps extra time to develop.
“With Joel coming back we had to make some decisions,” said Clouston. “We just felt, with the young group of D that we have, that we were going to commit to seven D on a lot of nights, which means we dress one forward short and roll a veteran player down, double shift somebody and mix them up with the fourth line.”
Clouston added he spoke with Heathcote about missing a few games due to Craven’s return team prior to the team’s four-game East Division road trip last week. That discussion led to a mutual decision to send Heathcote to the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League for further development while riding seven defencemen into the holiday break.
“We talked about reconvening after the trip and just seeing where it was for everybody, and I think this is sort of in the best interest of Dawson and the team. He had lost a little bit of fire and wasn’t contributing the way he wanted to, he wasn’t contributing the way we needed him to, and hopefully this is a positive in the end.”
Clouston added there is always a chance that Heathcote could return to the team in the future.
“I think it’s possible,” said Clouston. “We’re always evaluating our 50-man list and as of right now he’s still on that list. We’ll leave it at that and go from there, if something changes then we’ll address it at that time. We’ll see where he’s at and see where the teams at, see if Bobby (Fox, director of player personnel) finds us any good young prospects.”
Brown is currently listed as week-to-week. While Clouston says he does not expect to see the 18-year-old centre back on the ice until shortly after the holiday break, Brown has still been able to skate throughout his recovery and should be adding stick handling to his practice routine in the coming days.
“It hasn’t progressed quite as quick as we thought or hoped,” said Clouston. “He’s getting a lot of skating in, so hopefully when he is cleared to play he is ready to go. Because it’s an upper-body injury he’s been able to do lots of conditioning and skating. I’m sure he’s looking forward to handling the puck, he’ll start that this week, but I think the timing for him is a little bit too short to get back before the break. Hopefully he can continue to get healthy during the break and be ready to go shortly after.”