By Matthew Gourlie
The Moose Jaw Warriors won their third straight pre-season game Saturday with a 6-2 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers.
With both teams missing more than half of their returning veterans it was a chance for players on the bubble of making the roster to make their case.
Tate Popple made the most of his chance for the Warriors. The 17-year-old had a goal and an assist centering a line with Luca Burzan and Tanner Jeannot.
“We’re hoping he can play a role where he can win some face-offs, kill some penalties and slowly develop,” said Warriors head coach Tim Hunter.
Popple played eight games with the Warriors last season and had 22 goals and 52 points in 41 regular season games in midget AAA in Brandon. He added 17 points in seven playoff games.
“He’s a dog on a bone. He competes hard,” Hunter added. “He has a lot of skill. He was a real skilled played last year where he played. He has been well-coached. We hope he keeps moving along. (Saturday) was a big step for him, I know.
“He played hard and smart, which we like, and that’s why he’s here.”
Jeannot also had a goal and an assist and Brayden Tracey, Jett Woo and Tyler Smithies also scored for the Warriors. The Warriors’ 2017 first round pick Daemon Hunt continued to impress. He also had a goal and an assist.
“It was one of the best games he’s played — and the lineups, both ways, were not real Western Hockey League lineups — but the games are still fast and there are still some big players out there,” Hunter said. “His composure with the puck, his ability to do his homework before he gets the puck and know where it’s going when he gets it. That makes his game look so much easier than the other guys out there. He’s a smart player.
“It is a shame he’s 15, because he could play right now if he was a 16 year old.”
Josh Williams opened the scoring for Medicine Hat with a great rush that saw him split Warriors defencemen Chase Hartje and Matthew Benson. Hartje injured his ankle on the play and didn’t return. Hunter said that the early indication was that the injury wasn’t too serious.
“He went over on his ankle. We don’t know if it’s a little bit of a sprain, but it was uncomfortable so we just held him out,” Hunter said.
With Hartje out, Brenden Kwiatkowski, a 2000-born defenceman played more minutes for the Warriors and finished the night as a plus-four.
The Warriors could return 13 veteran forwards, but Hunter is pleased with how players are battling for the final roster spots.
“(Popple),Tyler Smithies, Brecon Wood, Jaeger White, they’re all in a fight to play on the team and make the team,” Hunter said. “I told the team before the game ‘you know why we play these games; to decide who gets to make the team. There are still guys trying to make the team and to make an impression. These are your chances. Don’t let it slip away and have regrets where you didn’t play as hard as you could.’”
Jaxon Steele had the other Tigers’ goal as they briefly cut the Warriors’ lead to 3-2 early in the third period.
Medicine Hat starting goalie Duncan McGovern stopped 13 of the 14 shot he faced, while Kaeden Lane allowed five goals off of 19 shots in his half of the game.
Adam Evanoff made 32 saves for the Warriors.