By Matthew Gourlie
Friday night Brayden Burke was face-down on the Mosaic Place ice, in a lot of pain, trying desperately to get off the ice.
Tuesday night Burke was face-down on the ice with a broad smile on his face a second after potting a late game-winning goal.
What a difference five days can make.
The Warriors’ faithful got a big scare seeing their leading scorer go down with an apparent knee injury. After missing Saturday’s 3-2 win in Swift Current, Burke made his return Tuesday.
The 20-year-old was the late hero as he tucked home a Justin Almeida pass from a near-impossible angle with 24.5 seconds left to give the Warriors a 5-4 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“When it first happened I was in quite a bit of pain and I didn’t know what to expect. I kind of couldn’t walk on it for a day-and-a-half there,” Burke said.
“Any time you get a scary injury you never know what might happen. I got a couple of days of rest, did some therapy and it felt good. Obviously, when it’s this early in the season I’m not going to come back until I’m feeling right-ready to go.”
The Warriors (22-5-1-1) felt that they never should have been in the position to need Burke’s late goal. They entered the third period with a 3-0 lead, but the Tigers (16-11-1-0) wasted no time mounting a comeback.
Max Gerlach scored 30 seconds into the period with a good shot from a bad angle. Hayden Ostir scored to make it 3-2, but Noah Gregor scored the Warriors’ third power-play goal of the night to give them a 4-2 lead.
The Tigers remained undeterred. Tigers head coach/GM Shaun Clouston put Ostir, Gary Haden and Jaeger White together mid-game and the trio clicked. Ostir scored his second of the game and then Haden helped force a turnover that fell to White and he tied the game at 4-4 before the radio timeout.
“We really battled back hard. We started throwing pucks on net and had some more traffic. It’s really exciting to battle back like that. It’s a great comeback, but we have to play a full 60 and we were 20 seconds short. It’s really disappointing,” said David Quenneville who had two assists for the Tigers.
After the Tigers tied the game, things went from bad to worse for the Warriors as Almeida and Tristin Langan took consecutive penalties to give the Tigers a five-on-three power play for 1:18.
Warriors goalie Brody Willms had a strong opening 40 minutes, but had some struggles in the third. However, on the two-man advantage he was at his best and kept his team in the game.
“This is the first time he’s been a No. 1 goalie. It’s been a lot of hockey and he hasn’t played that much hockey. We’ve rode him a lot and played him a lot… and the team hasn’t played very well in front of him defensively,” said Warriors head coach Tim Hunter. “Tonight was not unlike that. They had their moments where they didn’t play very well defensively and Medicine Hat capitalized. He made some big stops in the third period, right until the end, to get us a win. That’s what No. 1 goalies have to do and he did that tonight.”
Hunter praised Willms, along with Tanner Jeannot, Josh Brook and Dmitri Zaitsev for their work on the kill.
The penalty kill gave the Warriors a lift and once they were back to five-on-five with less than four minutes left they were able get back on the front foot.
“We definitely shouldn’t have been in that position, but when you get put in that position it’s nice to step up and get that big goal for us get the win,” Burke. “We want to play a good 60 minutes and not be put in this position again.”
The Warriors finished 3-for-4 on the power play and the Tigers were 0-for-5.
“It’s frustrating. We did a lot of video on it in the last few days and we watched more video (Tuesday). We talked about it. We knew what they were going to do,” Quenneville said of the Tigers’ penalty kill struggles. “They seemed to connect every time even when we knew what they were going to do. That’s really frustrating for us, but we just have to be better. We know our jobs, we just have to be sharper.”
The Tigers out-shot the Warriors 26-9 in the third and Willms finished with 43 saves. Michael Bullion made 25 stops for the Tigers.
Burke and Almeida each had a goal and two assists. Tanner Jeannot had a goal and an assist for Moose Jaw. Rookie defenceman Matthew Benson continued his strong, unheralded play and had a pair of assists.
The Warriors were missing Brett Howden, Jett Woo, Jaxan Kaluski and Oleg Sosunov (illness). Woo missed his 10th straight game, but is expected to join the Warriors for their three-game Alberta road trip. The 17-year-old may still be a week away from returning to the lineup.
The Tigers were without rookie forward Josh Williams who missed his 14th straight game.