You keep playing with fire, you are going to get burned.
The Moose Jaw Warriors (3-1-0) were finally dealt the lesson of how difficult it is to consistently play from behind in the Western Hockey League as they dropped their first game of the Regina Hub 5-2 to the Winnipeg ICE (3-1-0) Thursday afternoon at the Brandt Centre.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 19, 2021
The line that many believe might be the best in the WHL, Winnipeg’s top unit of Las Vegas Golden Knights prospect Peyton Krebs, with Philadelphia Flyers pick Connor McClennon, and Owen Pederson, was central in delivering that message when they connected on the game-winner at 14:10 of the second period. Krebs found McLennon to the left of Brett Mirwald, and he quickly snapped it to Pederson cross-crease for the tap-in.
For Warriors’ head coach Mark O’Leary, a lot of the loss can be chalked up to the fact that the devil is in the details.
“I think we manufactured some big scoring chances for (Winnipeg),” he said post-game.
“Whether it was our work on the wall, not getting it out on first opportunities, not stopping on pucks. These little moments in a game: sometimes you get away without anything happening, but when you talk about playing with fire, that it is what it is, and those little details they can end up in the back of your net.”
Moose Jaw’s 19-year-old defenceman Nolan Jones made his return to the line-up count quickly, dropping the gloves with big Winnipeg rookie Rhys Raeside only two-and-a-half minutes in. It was the Warriors’ first fight of the season and erupted after Ryder Korczak got up slowly from a hard Raeside body check into the boards to the back left of Mirwald’s net.
Korczak would be alright and helped kill the penalty called on Jones for the instigator.
Cole Jordan opened the scoring at the 12:11-mark of the opening frame, when the second-year defender poked a puck away from Winnipeg’s Nolan Orzeck at the Moose Jaw blue line, cruised in a stride, and wired a rocked wrister over Carl Stankowski’s glove in the Winnipeg net.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 18, 2021
It was the first time at the Subway WHL Hub that the Warriors had scored the first goal of a game.
“I don’t think I minded our start (compared to) our starts in other games,” O’Leary said.
“I think we had our legs for the most part, when you talk about races and battles, I think we got to that part of our game a little quicker than in past, but you’re facing a pretty good team over there, and certainly with their first line, it might be the best one in the hub, you give them enough looks they are going to put it in the back of the net.”
The Manitobans got the goal back with just under three minutes remaining. Zach Benson collected a rebound off the skates of Jones, slipped the puck to his forehand in the slot, and fired a perfectly aimed rocket high glove side on Mirwald for his second of the season.
Benson is the third of the dynamic 2005-born forwards, along with Brayden Yager and Connor Bedard, to watch at the Regina Hub.
The second period started similarly, and soon after Moose Jaw veteran forward, Tate Popple failed to get the puck down the ice on a Winnipeg two-man-advantage, Krebs made them pay, sending a laser beam past Mirwald from the top of the slot for his third of the year at 6:03.
Shots in the middle frame were 11-2 ICE at that point, Moose Jaw did not hit double-digits on the shot clock till seven minutes were remaining in the second, and once again, the Warriors had a deficit to make up.
What. A. Play. pic.twitter.com/n7t7QfhpNT
— Winnipeg ICE (@WHLWpgICE) March 18, 2021
Eric Alarie got Moose Jaw back on the familiar come-back trail and cut Winnipeg lead to 3-2 by jamming home a rebound from a Yager wrist shot with a minute-and-a-half remaining the second, but Cole Muir’s bullet post-and-in off a scramble in the slot at 3:37 of the third period delivered a sucker punch from the Ice that Moose Jaw could not recover from.
“I have been trying to have my best to have an impact on the game however I can,” said Alarie, the 6-foot-1, 196-pound power 2003-born forward.
“I am a big guy, I am pretty physical, so I am just trying to get energy on the forecheck at times, so when I can score…that’s a bonus. I am just trying to help the team as best I can.”
— Moose Jaw Warriors (@MJWARRIORS) March 18, 2021
“(Alarie) certainly has not flown under the radar for us,” added Coach O’Leary.
“We’re real pleased with him and I put (as someone) who had a great summer. He came back bigger, stronger, and I think Eric really added a step to his skating and added some agility. I think he’s going to have a great career in this league, and a big year this year, so I am really happy with where his development is at.”
Jacob Smallwood rubbed salt in the wound with an empty netter shorthanded at 18:25.
Mirwald, making his first career WHL start, was sharp throughout, as he was in his debut in relief vs. Regina Tuesday night, with his crowning stop coming late in the second when he shut his five-hole at the last second on an Orzeck breakaway.
“We are really pleased with Brett so far,” O’Leary said.
“Tonight he looked solid, I don’t have any problems with the goals that went in. He was making himself big, made some big saves, and especially early I think we were under the gun with some power plays (against) and he held strong and kept us in the fight as long as he could.”
The Warriors will look to get back in the win column Saturday afternoon when they take on the Swift Current Broncos for the first time at the Hub.
Notes: Second-year Moose Jaw forward Cade Hayes was out with what was listed as a ‘Lower-Body Injury’; Warriors’ forward Riley Niven made his Western Hockey League debut. Niven, 17, is out of the Moose Jaw Warriors 18U AAA program and was signed this summer as a free agent by the WHL club; the Warriors have faced a two-man advantage against in each of their first four games at the Hub; the Winnipeg ICE are next in action Sunday at 4 p.m. vs. the Prince Albert Raiders.