Keith Hershmiller

Slow start costs Warriors in loss to Blades

The Moose Jaw Warriors (7-8-1) outshot the Saskatoon Blades (11-2-2) 24-14 in the final 40 minutes of the contest, but could not overcome a sluggish start and fell 4-2 Saturday.

Moose Jaw’s overall effort was even more impressive given the loss of two important depth forwards in Logan Doust and Calder Anderson to injury during the contest as their losses forced the Warriors to play with 10 men upfront for about half the game.

Warriors’ head coach Mark O’Leary was not happy post-game with the way his team came out after crushing the Swift Current Broncos the night before.

“I did not like our start tonight,” O’Leary said.

“I thought we were a little late to the party in terms of our skating legs. The first period looked like a rested team on the other side and a team on ours that was still feeling pretty good about a pretty good effort last night. Credit to the guys, I thought the second and third period we were pretty good, so a couple of little hiccups ended up in the back of our net, but I liked the effort from our group especially in the (final 40 minutes of the game).”

Brayden Yager opened the scoring 9:01 into the opening period when he buried with authority through Koen MacInnes, directly after the Warriors’ third overall pick in the 2020 WHL draft made a gorgeous power move past Blades defender Spencer Shugrue.


Saskatoon got it right back after a poor pass from Denton Mateychuk put the puck right on the tape of San Jose Sharks prospect Tristen Robins, and he made no mistake.

And the momentum was all in the Blades camp.

Robins gave the Blades their first lead four minutes later, tap-dancing through the Warriors and snapping low blocker on Bilous and Moose Jaw went to the first intermission down 2-1.

Saskatoon continued to roll into the second period as Wyatt McLeod’s one-time bomb from the point beat a screened Bilous at the 1:25-mark, and handed the Blades a well-deserved third goal.

Veteran Moose Jaw forward Logan Doust had to leave the ice after a head hit by Blades’ rookie defender Tanner Molendyk under a minute later, but the penalty assessed yielded only a two-minute Moose Jaw power play. Not only did the Warriors fail to score on the man advantage, but more significantly, Doust did not return.

Later in the same stanza, big Saskatoon defender Rhett Rhinehart drilled Warriors’ forward Calder Anderson head first into the boards, clearly shaking the 18-year-old up; but there was no call at all on the Blade this time. Anderson did not return either.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” O’Leary said.

“It’s two guys that mean a lot to us, and anytime that happens it’s a tough pill to swallow, but all season long our responses (to adversity) have been pretty good. Sometimes it feels like we need to be punched in the mouth a little bit before we respond the right way, but that’s something to build around, and it was no different here tonight. We just continued to get better as we went, and I’ve liked our responses all year.”

Tate Popple earned Moose Jaw a measure of redemption when the veteran, who had been mired in a 10-game goalless slump, neatly chipped a rebound over the left pad of MacInnes out of mid-air on a Warrior power play with just over two minutes left in the second.

Momentum swung back to Saskatoon early in the third as speedster Kyle Crnkovic found a loose puck and a clear breakaway shorthanded at the 1:10-mark, and he was clinical, slipping it five-hole on Bilous to double the Blades’ advantage.

The Warriors generated numerous chances in the third, but MacInnes proved that in he and Nolan Maier the Saskatoon Blades have arguably the best one-two goaltending punch in the Western Hockey League.

The injuries to Doust and Anderson are definitely of concern, as the Warriors only very recently returned to something close to health with the returns of Ryder Korczak, Cade Hayes, and Max Wanner.

One young player that has taken advantage of the extra ice-time is 16-year-old rookie Jagger Firkus, who assisted on Popple’s goal, and was out for the final three minutes of the game with the Moose Jaw net pulled.

“Jagger is young but he is flat out one of our most offensively gifted players,” O’Leary said.

“(He’s so good because of) his thinking, his skillset with the puck, and he’s in great spots. Even in traffic, he is able to put the pucks in places to help his line mates. He’s real crafty, he’s got a head for the game and he’s a guy that can play in big situations, whether it’s in the middle or on the right side. We also feel like we can trust him in defensive zone situations, he’s a smart kid, he understands the game well and he has earned everything he has gotten.”

Moose Jaw will have some time to regroup, as they do not play again until Tuesday afternoon when they take on the red-hot Brandon Wheat Kings.

DUBNetwork Forums Slow start costs Warriors in loss to Blades

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