Saskatoon steals a point with stirring comeback

By Matthew Gourlie

The Saskatoon Blades are a team that doesn’t go down easily.

That is a lesson that the Moose Jaw Warriors should have absorbed on Saturday night as they struggled to hold off the Blades.

It seemed, on Tuesday, that they had not.

The Warriors raced out to a 4-0 lead and held a 6-2 advantage in the third period before the Blades scored four straight goals to stun the Mosaic Place crowd and force overtime.

Brayden Burke

In the end Brayden Burke saved the Warriors’ blushes by scoring with 1:03 left in overtime to give the Warriors a 7-6 win and two points.

“I think guys started to think it was going to be an easy night,” Burke said. “I think we have the best division in the league and any team can beat any other team from top to bottom. We’re going to have to take it as a learning experience.”

When the Blades seized the momentum, the Warriors weren’t able to dig in and stem the tide. Burke wanted to see more of an even-keel approach as the Blades poured it on in the third.

“You’re going to get scored on. You’re going to get a bad penalty that you didn’t think went your way, but you can’t let it affect how you are playing the game,” Burke said. “You have to go out there and have a good shift after a goal and work your way back up.”

The Warriors welcomed captain Brett Howden back from injury, but were still without defencemen Jett Woo, Josh Brook and Matthew Benson.

Moose Jaw’s Jaxan Kaluski opened the scoring with his first WHL goal. Kaluski buried a rebound by going hard to the net, but struck the back of his helmet on the post after scoring and didn’t return.

Jayden Halbgewachs scored two power-play goals to give the Warriors a 3-0 lead after a period. Tanner Jeannot made the most of a kind bounce to net a short-handed goal early in the second.

“Early on we let their top players wheel and deal and it’s hard to win games like that,” said Saskatoon’s 20-year-old sniper Cameron Hebig. “We definitely didn’t come out hard in the first period like we should have. Maybe if we did we would have it would have been a different story. We definitely have to look at that and change that.”

Cameron Hebig

Hebig scored twice to get the Blades right back in the game, but Justin Almeida’s goal with 1:15 left in the second period gave the Warriors a 5-2 lead and the momentum.

Tate Popple made the most of his limited ice time by wiring a shot into the top corner to give the Warriors a 6-2 lead. It was Popple’s second goal in his last three games.

The goal could have been a back-breaker. Instead, Bradley Goethals got the Blades’ comeback started 16 seconds later.

Hebig completed his hat trick on the power play and Josh Paterson and Caleb Fantillo scored to tie the game.

“We have to build off of the positives from the second and third (period),” Hebig said. “We were working hard, keeping it simple and sticking to the basics. I think that’s what can work for us and that’s what we need to do against teams like this.”

The Blades are 5-0-2-0 this season in one-goal games.

Burke’s overtime goal was his fourth point of the night. Almeida set-up the game-winner and he and Halbgewachs each finished with three points. Chase Hartje had a pair of assists and 15-year-old Daemon Hunt played his fifth straight game on defence for Moose Jaw.

“There’s a lot to take from this… we obviously need to know to bear down in our own end. There’s no way that they should score six goals. I think it’s simple, little things that added up to those goals going in,” Halbgewachs said.

Brody Willms made 33 saves for the Warriors.

Blades starting goalie Ryan Kubic was injured in Saturday’s game. Kubic has a lower-body injury. He stayed down in the third period Saturday after his teammate Fantillo drove Halbgewachs into him while the Warriors forward was cutting tot he net at top speed. Fantillo received a charging penalty on the play. Kubic finished the game, but wasn’t dressed Tuesday.

Nolan Maier, 16, made his third career start and allowed five goals on 34 shots through two periods. Joel Grzybowski — just recalled from Battlefords of the SJHL after having been sent down a week earlier— had a strong third period and made 10 saves in relief.

Libor Hajek and Braylon Shmyr each had two assists for the Blades.

Saskatoon was missing defenceman Seth Bafaro due to illness and forward Logan Christensen.

The Blades (8-12-2-0) are in Swift Current Wednesday.

The Warriors (19-5) improved their league-best home record to 11-1. In 2011-12, their first season in Mosaic Place, the Warriors posted a 30-3-2-1 record at home. They host Prince Albert Saturday.

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Matthew Gourlie

Matthew Gourlie is a freelance journalist who has covered the Western Hockey League for the past 15 years, most recently as the sport editor of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald.