Airdronian steps into key role with WHL’s Tigers

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Almost two years since he had his Western Hockey League (WHL) rights traded to the Medicine Hat Tigers, Airdrie’s Gary Haden has stepped into an key role and is a contributor on a team looking at a playoff run.

The forward said he’s found the game he had while playing midget hockey with the CFR Chemical Bisons, and is more confident in what he is doing on the ice with his squad.

“It makes it way more enjoyable,” Haden said. “No one goes up wanting to play on the fourth line, but you have to go through it at some point in your career.

“Last year was a learning curve, and this year comes with more responsibility.”

As the WHL has passed its unofficial midway point of the 2017-18 campaign, Haden has already set career numbers in most statistical categories, including games played (39), goals (10), assists (18) and points (28). The 18-year-old has also found himself in special teams positions with the Tigers, adding a power-play goal and a short-handed goal this season.

During his rookie season, the Airdronian said he did a lot of growing and learning; getting accustomed to the transition to the WHL game, while finding a fit for himself with his new team.

After only appearing in 32 games and amassing eight points in his first season, Haden went into the 2017 off-season determined to prove himself.

“I knew I had to get bigger and stronger…playing everyday is hard on your body,” Haden said. “(Moving up to junior) was a huge jump last year, so it was good just to get my feet under me to realize what it takes to play in this league.”

Haden’s hard work paid off, as the Airdronian became an everyday player with the Tigers and has enjoyed an extremely successful season with a team poised to be a contender among the WHL’s Eastern Conference powerhouses.

Although he has only been held out of a pair of games this season, Haden said it wasn’t until mid-November 2017 that he felt he had achieved his goal as a full-time player.

Despite playing fairly consistent this year, Haden has gone through some dry spells, most recently being held pointless for six games in December 2017, but got out of his slump right at the end of the month and now has points in four of the past five games.

As difficult as slumps can be for players, Haden said he remained calm and continued to play his game, knowing the puck would start to find the back of the net eventually.

“Those six games were tough on me because I was getting tons of chances, it was just the puck wasn’t going in the net,” Haden said. “It’s one of those things you’ve got to look at and make sure you’re doing the right things.

“Eventually things will turn around, and the last five games have gone good so far.”

The Tigers currently sit atop the Central Division with a 22-16-3-0 record, eight points ahead of the second-place Kootenay ICE.

Haden said even though his team has a decent margin over its closest competition in the division, the team cannot get complacent, and is focused on winning its second Central Division title in as many years and getting the chance to play WHL playoff hockey.

“That’s a big (goal) for me…. Who doesn’t want to play playoff hockey?” Haden said. “That’s one of the reasons you play hockey, to win.”

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