It’s a long Western Hockey League season, but the week after Christmas can be a vital one.
The Moose Jaw Warriors had a huge week and took a big step towards cementing a playoff berth.
The Warriors collected a seven out of a possible eight points and crucially swept a home-and-home with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Those wins give the Warriors a 10-point lead on the Wheat Kings in third place in the East Division while still holding a game in hand.
The Warriors (20-8-5-1) will be looking ahead and not behind them as they try to chase the Saskatoon Blades who are five points ahead of Moose Jaw, but have played five more games than the Warriors.
The results are even more impressive considering that head coach Tim Hunter and captain Josh Brook are both on duty with the Canadian world junior team.
On New Year’s Eve, Brayden Tracey scored a natural hat trick to give the Warriors a 3-1 win over Brandon at Mosaic Place.
The next day Brayden was named the WHL’s rookie of the month for December. It’s the second time he’s earned that honour. Tracey has 14 goals on the season.
A pair of former Warriors staked the visitors to a 1-0 lead as Chase Hartje scored on a feed from Luka Burzan.
Adam Evanoff made 28 saves in goal for Moose Jaw and Connor Ungar made 24 saves for the Wheat Kings in his first WHL start.
Brandon overage defenceman Schael Higson wasn’t in the lineup and it was announced that he and the team had parted ways on Wednesday. Linden McCorrister is the only 20 year old left on Brandon’s roster.
The Wheat Kings have lost four straight games after the holiday break and have lost seven of their last eight games.
A night earlier, the Warriors scored five straight goals to rout the Wheat Kings 6-2.
Tristin Langan’s 27th goal of the year was the game-winner for the Warriors. Justin Almeida had two goals and Jett Woo chipped in with a goal and two assists for the Warriors. Tate Popple and Kaeden Taphorn also scored.
Nolan Ritchie and Braden Schneider also scored for Brandon.
The Warriors returned to the ice on Dec. 27 and earned a split with the Swift Current Broncos.
The teams engaged in a wild third period as Matthew Culling scored with 5:31 left and Matthew Stanley netted his first goal of the season with 2:53 left to give the Broncos a 3-1 lead. Tracey replied for the home side with 1:09 left and the Warriors net empty and then Keenan Taphorn scored his ninth of the season 22 seconds later to stun the Broncos and force overtime.
The Broncos prevailed in the extra period as Alex Moar scored his first WHL goal.
The Warriors were out-shooting the Broncos 30-10 after two periods, but Joel Hofer made 39 saves in a standout performance for Swift Current.
Brodan Salmond made 17 saves in the loss.
It was tough sledding a night later in Swift Current as the teams went to overtime once more.
Moose Jaw prevailed thanks to Langan’s second goal of the night in the extra period. Langan had a three-point night as did Justin Almeida who scored. Tracey and Woo each had two assists and Daemon Hunt had the other Moose Jaw goal.
Culling, Ethan Regnier and Alec Zawatsky scored for the Broncos who got two assists from Ben King.
Hofer made 35 saves in the loss, while Evanoff earned the win with a 24-save night.