The Canadian Hockey League’s top team opened the WHL playoffs with a commanding 5-3 victory over the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers on Friday evening at Wayne Fleming Arena.
For a team that very well may be in its last hurrah in Winnipeg, the ICE put together a strong start to what players, management and fans are hoping will be a long postseason run.
2022 first round draft pick Matthew Savoie registered his first career playoff hat trick, while WHL overages Ben Zloty picked up four assists as the ICE downed the eighth seed Tigers by a pair of goals. Trade deadline acquisition Zack Ostapchuk and homegrown forward Evan Friesen also recorded tallies for Winnipeg.
For Savoie, the three-goal, four-point outing was certainly one for the memory books, considering his fateful exit from the picture roughly one year prior. Exiting Game 2 of Winnipeg’s semi-final series in the 2022 postseason with a shoulder injury, Savoie missed the remainder of the playoffs, including Winnipeg’s shot at a WHL championship and further a trip to the Memorial Cup.
At this point, anything short of said events would be an utter disaster for a club that went 57-10-1 on the season, and finished atop the entire league for the second straight season.
Already down 2023 NHL Draft eligible forward Zach Benson – to whom many experts predict will be selected before Pick No. 10 this June – to injury, the ICE are hoping for a return from their star forward as the postseason kicks into high gear. The injury to Savoie last year certainly derailed the team’s chances, but the emergence of Benson this season has helped spread the offensive wealth off the shoulders of just Savoie and Conor Geekie.
Friday’s game was a relatively even matchup, with Medicine Hat actually outshooting the ICE by a slight 36-35 differential. Goaltender Daniel Hauser was the difference, with an assist from Winnipeg’s power play, which went 3/6 on the night. Savoie’s offensive output also included seven total shots on goal, while fellow forward Connor McClennon had three assists on five shots on net.
Next up for Winnipeg is Game 2 on Saturday evening. Puck drop is set for 6:00 PM central time from Wayne Fleming Arena. The ICE took the season series 3-1 with Medicine Hat, while remain up 1-0 in the best-of-seven opening round matchup.