Keith Hershmiller

Warriors snap skid, keep potential of .500 season alive

REGINA – “(The hope of .500) is not dead yet!”, to slightly adjust a quote from Monty Python’s iconic ‘Holy Grail’ film.

Tate Popple scored the winner as the Moose Jaw Warriors (8-11-1) downed the Prince Albert Raiders (7-10-3) 5-2 Monday, and kept alive their stated hope of finishing at .500 in the Hub standings with four games to go.

The victory snapped a four-game, 10-day losing skid that saw Moose Jaw score a mere six goals over that span.

“It’s definitely a sigh of relief (to snap this skid),” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary post-game.

“For every loss that adds up, you know it weighs on the players. Yesterday we had a real good practice, some good conversations, and just got back to basics with what makes Moose Jaw Warrior hockey. I thought the guys did a great job today of responding, with some losses in the last few games, as hard as that is, they took it as a challenge, and they did a really good job today.”

The Warriors were punished for a slow start 1:20 in when Evan Herman jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone, which had bounced over the stick of Cory King at the point, cruised in alone on Brett Mirwald, and then made no mistake on the backhand.

A strong response from O’Leary’s men after the goal led to a much better second half of the frame, and the tying goal came at the 12:55-mark as Riley Krane jammed in a rebound on the doorstep from a well-aimed Atley Calvert wrister.

Moose Jaw scored its eighth five-on-three marker in the Hub seven minutes into the second period when Tate Popple chipped in a rebound off a Brad Ginnell one-timer, and the Warriors had a deserved lead.

The Warriors doubled the advantage three minutes later; Max Wanner’s long point-shot banged off a couple of bodies in front of the Prince Albert net, and ultimately hit Josh Hoekstra’s leg and bounced over a helpless Carter Serhyenko at 10:20.

“The adjustment (to the WHL) was definitely huge for me,” said Hoekstra, who has four points this season after failing to score as a call-up in 2020-21, post-game.

“Seeing that I am starting to put some points in it feels a lot better, gives me a lot more confidence going into next year.”

It was the first time in five games the Warriors had a lead of more than one goal.

The good times kept rolling for Moose Jaw fans.

Serhyenko spilled a rebound off a soft Cade Hayes shot directly to Eric Alarie, and the Warriors’ leading goal scorer fired five-hole for his 10th of the campaign, and Moose Jaw’s fourth. It was also thus the first time since the Warriors’ last win they had scored as many in a contest.

Moose Jaw was sluggish in the third period, with the shots 14-1 in favour of Prince Albert with 3:33 left in regulation, but Mirwald remained solid for his fourth career Western Hockey League win.

Moose Jaw super rookie Brayden Yager added an exclamation point to proceedings at 16:58 when he blew down the left-wing, past a Raiders defender, and launched a seemingly unstoppable rocket over Serhyenko’s glove for one of the goals of the season.

“With Brayden, maybe I’m getting spoiled, but the things he does don’t surprise me anymore,” said O’Leary.

“He’s just that kind of player: he’s electric, and if you give him a little bit of space he can make something out of it. The goal he had was another beauty.”

Hoekstra also assisted on Yager’s goal, earning the second-year Warrior the first multi-point game of his WHL career.

“Josh does a lot of the grunt work for us,” O’Leary added.

“He’s kind of a throw-back player. He just grits his teeth, does everything as hard as he can, he sprints to pucks, and he’ll do anything for his teammates. I am just really excited for a kid like that to find success, I know he is going to have a heck of a WHL career and a big part of us moving forward.”

Reece Vitelli added a late consolation on a Prince Albert power play.

It was the fourth and final meeting of the two clubs in the Hub season, with each team earning two victories.

The WHL announced pre-game that there would be no playoffs after the 24-game campaign, league-wide.

“It’s tough for the players,” O’Leary said.

“You play to compete at the end, the playoffs being the most important part of the season. But this year has been unlike any other, so it certainly doesn’t surprise me, and I certainly understand why there won’t be playoffs. I also think it plays into what we’ve been talking about all along: it’s about our process, it’s about us meeting our own personal standards on a consistent basis. The end result isn’t really the most important thing for us as a team, so it isn’t going to change our outlook on the season. If you look at the world around us, we’re pretty fortunate to have played 24 games in this Hub, and we’ll certainly take that.”

The Warriors are next in action Wednesday night when they will take on the Winnipeg ICE; puck drops at 8:00 p.m. Saskatchewan Time.

DUBNetwork Forums Warriors snap skid, keep potential of .500 season alive

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