Keith Hershmiller

Warriors drop season finale to Blades

REGINA – Heartbreaking; the only way to describe the end of the Moose Jaw Warriors (8-13-3) final game of the Subway WHL Campaign.

In three-on-three overtime, after a strong third-period comeback, Warriors’ forward Ryder Korczak attempted a fancy toe-drag, as the highest Moose Jaw player in the offensive zone. He was neatly stripped by Saskatoon’s Colton Dach, who proceeded to steam down the ice two-on-none and feed Rhett Rhinehart cross-crease for the winner.

“First of all, this Hub season was a lot of fun,” said Moose Jaw captain Daemon Hunt post-game before confirming his plans to return to the Warriors next season.

“I think we had a lot of ups and downs this year. We would have liked to win more games, sometimes we let them out of our hands and lost them, so moving forward we definitely need to play more of a 60-minute game. Overall, I think we got better as a team and that’s all that matters, and I’m excited for next year.”

The Blades (16-5-3) knew they were to finish in third place in the Hub even before the dramatic 5-4 victory, while the Warriors will have to settle for sixth of seven teams as a result of the defeat.

Yet with all that being the case, Moose Jaw head coach Mark O’Leary saw mostly the positives after the finale.

“The result was not there again,” he said, “but I thought we played a really good hockey game.

“This is junior hockey, there are going to be mistakes for sure, but I loved our response to some tough bounces, and some things not going well. At the end of the day, we put ourselves in a position to win.”

It was a typical start for Moose Jaw over the last number of weeks: slow.

The Saskatoon Blades jumped out to the lead at 3:49 when Kyle Crnkovic pounded a rebound off a Blake Stevenson wrister into an empty net left so by a helpless Boston Bilous.

It was the 16th time in the 24-game campaign that the Warriors had given up the first goal of a contest.

Moose Jaw’s energy took an uptick directly after, and it was rewarded as a point shot from Lucas Brenton bounced off a skate in front and right to Logan Doust who proceeded to fire the puck into the empty cage at 7:27.

The Blades came out the better team in the second and proceeded to hit iron twice on clear chances in a span of a minute and a half.

They did ultimately get the lead back just after the midway mark of the frame when a lackadaisical play by Brad Ginnell at the left point on a Moose Jaw power play led to a shorthanded two-on-one for Saskatoon, and Crnkovic made no mistake shorthanded when he neatly slipped five-hole on Bilous.

It was a WHL-high seventh shorthanded goal against on the season for the Warriors.

Moose Jaw did not take long to reply, though, as Jagger Firkus chipped home in tight off a rebound from a Tate Popple wrister from the slot on the same man-advantage; and just like that the game was tied.

The Warriors’ best chance to take the lead came later in the middle frame when Saskatoon goaltender Nolan Maier leaked a rebound from a Ginnell wrister right to Cade Hayes, who was thus in alone to his life. Yet Maier flashed the glove and kept it out.

The Blades needed only eight seconds into the third to take the lead themselves, as a pass from Wyatt McLeod was directed off the skates of Dach to the left of Bilous, and then squibbed through the legs of the 20-year-old goaltender.

It was another power-play goal that extended the Blades lead when Bilous stoned Dach on a one-timer to his left, but the rebound dribbled to Chase Wouters standing on the doorstep, and the finish proved simple at 5:29.

It was the fourth game in a row to end the season that the Warriors had given up more than one power-play goal against, and five in a row that the penalty kill was unable to keep the puck out entirely.

But if the Warriors were in a hurry to get out of the Hub, they did not show it in the final frame.

Moose Jaw captain Daemon Hunt got one back at the 7:02-mark of a Warriors’ power play as his point blast took a deflection off the skate of Saskatoon defender McLeod and rolled past Maier.

Calder Anderson then tied the game at 15:43 with a slick finish in tight far side over Maier’s blocker, and momentum appeared fully in the Moose Jaw camp as to overtime they went.

The Warriors controlled the extra period, until Korczak’s error that is.

The contest was the final WHL game for the Warriors’ three graduating players: Tate Popple, who played his full 198-game career for Moose Jaw, as well as Riley Krane and Brad Ginnell.

“Losing Tate is especially a tough one,” O’Leary said.

“He is a guy that made it the hard way and I still remember his first training camp: just his grit and determination made him noticed, and he has been great for us on and off the ice. The tougher the moment Tate seems to rise to the occasion. He’s a pleasure to be around and I wish him all the best moving forward.”

Moose Jaw, the youngest team in the East Division by weighted age, showed their youth through a lot of the tournament, and look to make many moves and decisions this upcoming offseason ahead of the 2021-2022 WHL Season; one which everyone is hoping and praying is a far-more normal one.

After 57 days total in the Hub, and 24 games in a stretch of 46 days, the Warriors Subway WHL Hub campaign is over.

“I just think we’re lucky,” O’Leary said.

“Looking back we did this Hub the right way. We came in here and set the restrictions pretty hard, but it’s just a privilege to be able to get 24 games in here, so I’m real thankful for that. It feels like it was a full season, certainly, the last two weeks have been a grind, and it wears on you. This whole thing has been a lot of hockey in a short amount of time, with not a whole lot else going on. I am not complaining one bit though, it’s all part of it, and we’ll look back at this and know we enjoyed the experience. I had a blast and it was an overall success.”

Please check back on DUBNetwork later this week for a full year-end feature on the Warriors Hub campaign!

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