Keith Hershmiller

Warriors rally for shootout victory in third Trans-Canada Clash


REGINA – The Trans-Canada Clash between the Moose Jaw Warriors (6-6-1) and Regina Pats (4-6-3) at the Subway WHL Hub has only gone one way so far: dramatically.

Moose Jaw scored three times in the final 7:26 of regulation, include Eric Alarie’s game-tying goal with 16.8 seconds left on the clock, and the Warriors edged the Pats 4-3 in a shootout Monday afternoon.

If this is how this rivalry is going to go for the next number of years as Moose Jaw young stars mature against Regina’s wunderkind Connor Bedard, then strap yourselves in!

“I think the big challenge tonight was to stick with (our game plan), said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary post-game.

“To not try to cheat, because the offence wasn’t coming. Credit to our group, they are a resilient bunch, they have shown that since the start of this schedule. They don’t quit, and that’s something to be real proud of.”

The Warriors were the only team to participate in the shootout twice of the Hub to date, as they had defeated the Prince Albert Raiders in the skills competition in their second contest of the season back on March 14.

Carson Denomie of Regina: miss. Moose Jaw’s Eric Alarie: miss.

Then it was what we wanted to see: Connor Bedard.

The 15-year-old cruised in, dangled to the backhand, and beat Mirwald…no sweat.

Brayden Yager replied with an equally beautiful finish on the next shot, as he danced, then flipped home on the forehand, giving a further glimpse of the great future of this rivalry.

And speaking of the future: enter Jagger Firkus.

With the game on his tape, the former Moose Jaw first-round pick snapped low to the block side of Kieper, and for the second shootout of the year, a 16-year-old rookie answered the bell for the winner.

“I just read off the players that went before me,” Firkus said post-game.

“I looked at (a previous) shot and I saw low-blocker was pretty open, so I just went up there, looked if it was open and just shot, and it was a pretty good shot I guess.”

Yet despite all that, the game’s first 55 minutes or so were pretty pedestrian.

A spirited-yet-disjointed first period yielded few clear scoring chances, with the best coming off the stick of Regina captain Logan Nijhoff whose wrister point-blank was beaten away by Mirwald’s blocker.

Tate Popple had Moose Jaw’s best opportunity of the opening frame as he was stopped when he found himself alone in front of Kieper after a Lucas Brenton point shot rebounded right to him with four minutes remaining.

Bedard put Mirwald into action with 9:30 remaining in the middle frame when the 15-year-old’s cross-seam pass was blocked, but the deflection went right on the net. The puck only stayed out because the Warrior rookie netminders left toe-flashed out in the blink of an eye, but the momentum was on the Pats’ side.

Regina took advantage just over four minutes later as just as a Moose Jaw penalty expired, a Parker Berge wrister deflected in off Warrior defender Denton Mateychuk’s stick, and in past a helpless Mirwald.

It took the Pats only 30 seconds to stretch the lead as Layton Feist, Regina’s overtime hero the last time these two clubs squared off, had a wrist shot of his own evade a heavily screened Mirwald; and after 40 minutes, the Warriors had a two-goal hill to climb.

The hill steepened at the 5:01-mark of the third period after a poor pass from the left half-wall in the offensive zone by Eric Alarie ended up in a three-on-one the other way, and Ryer Evans flipped low blocker on Mirwald to make it 3-0 Regina.

“We can’t hang our goalie out dry like that,” said Firkus.

“We obviously have to be better at the start next game. We have to be ready to go from the drop of the puck, forecheck harder, and if we play our game I know more often than not we’ll be fine.”

But there was fight left in the Warriors yet.

Kade Runke got the rally going with his first of the year at 12:34, chipping home a neat Alarie feed; and then Josh Hoekstra’s rocket only 23 seconds later evaded Kieper over the blocker for his first career WHL goal; in the blink of an eye the Regina lead was down to one.

“I couldn’t be more excited for that fourth line to get on board with a couple,” O’Leary said.

“I think we’ve seen the last few games they’ve been our most consistent line in terms of just playing to their identity, earning trust from the staff, and earning more responsibility. For Josh and Kade to score some really big goals for us was just awesome; they don’t complain, they just work hard and do their job.

The comeback was completed with the net empty, extra-attacker on, and 16.8 seconds left on the clock. After a number of chances, Alarie pulled the puck out of the crowd in the slot, and fired a backhand that beat Kieper clean; and for the third time in three Trans-Canada clashes, off to overtime, we went.

“You have to give credit to the players,” O’Leary said.

“I keep talking about the skill level our young players have, but what gets me really excited is that they’re good people, they were brought up the right way, and the character of them is something that gets you more excited. At the end of the day, things aren’t going to go your way sometimes, but it’s always about what you do next, and I think this group has had that ‘what’s next’ mentality from the get-go, and that’s coming from within the players.”

Mirwald was spectacular on a number of Regina chances on the 3-on-3, but neither team could finish.

The Warriors are back in action Wednesday afternoon when they take on the Winnipeg Ice, puck drops at 4:00 p.m.

Notes: The game was Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard’s final ‘Trans-Canada Clash’ of the season, as the former No. 1 pick in the WHL Draft is set to leave the Hub after Apr. 9 for the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Texas; Moose Jaw forward Ryder Korczak had been rumoured to potentially return on the day from an ‘upper-body injury’ but was still out.



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