If there is one thing Tyler Ennis has taken to heart during his career in the WHL, it is the expectation that in Medicine Hat, the Tigers are required to maintain a winning tradition. However, that can be an immense challenge in the often cyclical world of a junior hockey franchise.
“We lost a lot of key guys after last season,” Ennis said when he spoke with Hockey’s Future after the Skills Challenge at the 2008 Home Hardware Top Prospects Game in Edmonton. “When you graduate guys like Gord Baldwin, Kris Russell, Darren Helm, Matt Keetley and David Schlemko, people might say that this is a rebuilding year. But in Medicine Hat, we don’t like to think of it that way.”
It’s just part of the winning attitude Ennis has experienced since his arrival in the Gas City three years ago. He played 43 games during his rookie season, but broke out offensively last year with 26 goals and 24 assists in 70 games. He also collected eight goals and four assists in 22 playoff games, which included the Tigers’ Game 7, double-overtime win in the league championship final against the Vancouver Giants.
“Last year was the best year of my life,” Ennis smiled. “Going down that stretch of Game 7, double overtime, you know you can’t get a better feeling. It was just an incredible team to be part of. Going to the Memorial Cup was a great experience. I just like to look back sometimes at last year and how fun it was with that great group of guys.”
As a 19-year-old, it is now Ennis’ responsibility in Medicine Hat to lead and instill the tradition of winning. He admits there is a method to the approach with the current group.
“Willi (head coach and general manager Desjardins) demands that we win,” Ennis said emphatically. “The organization demands winning. We just do not accept losing and we are a young group that just loves to win. We come in prepared and look to find ways to win every night.”
For Ennis, his personal efforts to create winning ways include the help of his line mates, Brennan Bosch and Daine Todd. It was Bosch who scored the historic championship winning goal for Medicine Hat last season.
“Bosch and I played together most of this year and after the Christmas break we were really on fire, just everything was going in,” Ennis explained. “We would just give the puck up to each other and find ways for it to go in the net. We’re unselfish. Both those guys are skilled, so that makes it a lot of fun to play with them.”
The diminutive Ennis, who weighs in at 160 pounds on a 5’9 frame, was chosen by NHL general managers through the Central Scouting Service to participate in the annual Top Prospects Game. It was an exciting opportunity for Ennis, who grew up in Stony Plain, which is virtually a suburb of Alberta’s City of Champions. For the soft-spoken Ennis, the entire two-day event almost felt like a home game.
“Yeah, you know it’s cool and really fun here,” Ennis said. “I looked up into the crowd a couple times and saw my family and some friends. It’s cool that everyone is here and I can’t wait to play in the game.”
Ennis skated for Team White, the group coached by Don Nachbaur of the Tri City Americans and former Edmonton Oilers Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson. Although he didn’t factor in the scoring, he was on the winning side in an 8-4 victory. Appearing in the Top Prospects Game was an achievement Ennis is very proud of.
“I set some high goals for myself this season,” Ennis said. “I wanted to make the World Junior team, but that didn’t happen. I wanted to play in this game, and it happened. Right now I’m pretty determined to go in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, so I just have to have a good season, a really good second half and keep doing what I’m doing well.”
Among the Top Prospects in Edmonton were a host of offensively gifted players who recognize that in past years, chances of serious consideration in the first round was a slim proposition. Ennis, Jordan Eberle, Zach Boychuk, Kelsey Tessier and Mikkel Boedker stood out as so-called lightweights among some of the towering skaters. However, with the new standard of rules enforcement, these smaller, skilled athletes are now being given the opportunity to shine.
“It’s awesome that the rule changes help some of us little guys out there,” Ennis said. “For me, I feel like I can better use my speed down low and not have to deal with that clutch and grab issue. I know now that I can use my speed and go hard down low through traffic.”
Despite being overlooked in the 2004 WHL Bantam Draft, Ennis was listed by Medicine Hat. He has appeared in a Memorial Cup, was a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning U18 team and the 2006 World Junior Cup and played for Team Pacific at the 2006 World U17 Hockey Challenge.
Through 48 games this season, he leads the Tigers with 26 goals and 36 assists. Prior to the Top Prospects Game, Ennis was ranked 17th among North American skaters by Central Scouting in their mid-term rankings.