By RYAN MCCRACKEN on January 16, 2020.
Damon Agyeman made the most of a rare opportunity on Saturday night in Moose Jaw.
The 17-year-old Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman was forced to switch up his role on short notice by filling a gap up front in a 7-5 win over the Warriors. It was the first time Agyeman tried his hand as a forward since lacing up his skates as a tyke. It also resulted in the first goal of his Western Hockey League career.
“It was certainly different. I haven’t played forward for a lot of years,” said Agyeman. “Going up and just getting used to the systems was a little different at the start, but my linemates made me feel comfortable pretty quick so it was a good experience.”
Those linemates were Cyle McNabb and Baxter Anderson, and 14 minutes into the first period they set the groundwork for a moment Agyeman will remember for the rest of his life.
“(McNabb) passed it out to (Anderson) out front, the goalie made a save and it popped out to me on my backhand and I buried it,” said Agyeman, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound product of Cochrane. “When I learned I was playing forward I just kind of wanted to do my best – play physical, play my role – and it worked out pretty good.”
Medicine Hat has been short at forward ever since losing Elijah Brown to a lower-body injury in a 4-3 setback to the Brandon Wheat Kings on Jan. 7. Brown – who has 26 points in 39 games this season – is expected to miss at least a few weeks with the injury.
It remains to be seen whether Agyeman will continue to contribute as a forward, however Tigers assistant coach Joe Frazer says he certainly showed promise in the position Saturday.
“He ran a great forecheck and went to the net,” Frazer said of Agyeman, who played in seven games as a defenceman this season before getting the chance at left wing. “It was great to see him get rewarded because he hasn’t played that much. But for him to put in all the work he has, on the ice, at practice and in the weight room, to see him get rewarded – when he got in, I know the guys were really happy for him.”
It wouldn’t be the first time head coach Willie Desjardins turned a blueliner into a physical presence up front. Back in the 2002-03 season, the Tigers picked up defenceman Kieran Block, who was then groomed into a third-line checking forward. Block went on to serve a key role in bringing the Ed Chynoweth Cup to Medicine Hat the following year.
Agyeman joined up with the Tigers as a free agent last season and suited up for seven games on the blue line, logging a minus-two rating with four shots on goal in the span. While this season started with more of the same – with the young utility player providing the Tigers with some depth but often finding himself listed as a healthy scratch – Frazer says Agyeman has handled it all commendably while consistently staying in step at practice.
“It’s outstanding. A guy in his position, it’s not easy not playing, and he’s unbelievable. He’s got such a great attitude,” said Frazer. “He’s worked so hard all year and for him to jump up – I think it was the first time he’s ever played forward – so for him to jump up, and he was solid. He got some bumps in. He’s a big guy who can skate well.”
Despite spending his entire competitive career on the blue line, Agyeman says he welcomes the opportunity to continue playing as a forward if it’s what the team requires of him.
“I think it’s important always being ready to jump in if someone gets injured or if we have a suspension or something like that,” he said. “I welcome the role and want to do what I can for the team.”
The Tigers return to the Canalta Centre Saturday to host the Lethbridge Hurricanes at 7:30 p.m., but first they’ll hit the ice for the team’s annual skills competition, which raises funds for the local MS Society and kicks off tonight at 7 p.m.
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