It’s about time the Brayden Yager show got going.
Sure, Moose Jaw’s answer to ‘that kid on Regina’ has not made the same type of noise, but Coach Mark O’Leary still trusted the 2005-born rookie to take the shootout-clinching shot in Moose Jaw’s (2-0-0) 2-1 overtime victory Sunday over the high-powered Prince Albert Raiders (1-0-1), and boy did he deliver.
Thanks to an absolute snipe in the shootout from Brayden Yager, the @MJWARRIORS edge the Raiders.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) March 15, 2021
Yager cruised in like a seasoned vet, and fired a rocket off the post, and in past P.A. netminder Carter Serhyenko; and the Warriors, who won only 14 games all of last year, stayed perfect after two overtime games in the Regina Hub.
“I think Brayden definitely took a step tonight,” O’Leary said post-game.
“I think the more the game went on, the more comfortable he got, and it’s the sign of a really good player when they get seem to get more comfortable the bigger the moment. He had a good look in overtime, so when we got to the shootout there was no hesitation…we knew he would be in the shooters, it set up for him really nicely and it was a really exciting moment for Brayden.”
Clear-cut chances were few and far between for both clubs in the first period, the best coming on a Prince Albert two-man advantage that saw Warriors’ goaltender Boston Bilous stone Montreal Canadiens’ first-rounder Kaiden Guhle’s one-timer from the top of the right circle.
The second period continued the trend with Bilous centre-stage.
Moose Jaw’s 19-year old netminder stopped Eric Pearce from point-blank range on another Raiders power play four-and-a-half minutes in and then dove behind him to clear the goal-line after a Nolan Allan point-blast deflected up in the air off a body in front moments later.
“I think Boston has really found some confidence here,” said O’Leary.
“He is a guy that put a lot of work in the off-season in terms of his strength and conditioning, and I know he was really looking forward to being a go-to guy, and he has certainly done that so far – we’re not 2-0 without his play in both games here. It’s the big-time saves in big moments that really keep us in the fight and he’s been our best player here so far.”
Moose Jaw’s best chance in the game to that point came when Eric Alarie’s bullet from the left dot grazed the post to the left of Serhyenko at the 15:20-mark.
The Raiders’ pressure finally paid off at 11:38 of the middle stanza; Bilous could not clearly see a Guhle wrister from the left half-wall, and the deadlock was broken.
The contest, which early on lacked the same zip from the Warriors as Game 1 of the Hub two nights previous, came to life.
Bilious was quickly called upon to make a great save on Evan Herman in alone off a nifty feed from Reece Vitelli, and then moments after that, at the other end, a Mateychuk shot through a screen and destined for the top corner just glanced off Serhyenko’s glove and dribbled wide.
After two, the black-shirted Warriors had only mustered 10 shots on Prince Albert’s fine sophomore Serhyenko, prompting Coach O’Leary to make a few changes.
Most notably, he added Ryder Korczak to Alarie and Yager’s line, and occasionally split up his top pair of Daemon Hunt and Mateychuk in search of some blue-line depth.
“I think in the first two periods we did not really play our game,” O’Leary said.
“I think the heart, that resilience came in the third. We got back to playing the way we did in the first game: attacking pucks, getting it back, going downhill with five guys, and I thought it was a really good third period. We had four lines going, and it was a lot of fun, and that relentlessness is how we need to play.”
Hunt, the captain, and Minnesota Wild prospect launched a deflected knuckle-puck past Serhyenko at 3:52 of the final period to tie it after a much better start to the frame, and momentum had turned.
(@DaemonHunt22) with a blast from the point to tie the game.
— Moose Jaw Warriors (@MJWARRIORS) March 15, 2021
Cade Hayes deftly curled out of the corner with seven-and-a-half minutes to go and clanked a rocket off the crossbar, and when Alarie was stopped on a breakaway less than a minute later, it felt like a Moose Jaw go-ahead-marker was coming soon.
But, it did not.
Overtime yielded numerous chances to end it. Hayes was stoned on a breakaway two minutes in after a gorgeous deke left him with what he thought was an open net, and then the hero-to-be Yager missed the net on a well-worked two-on-one. At the other end, Bilous was up to his own tricks, robbing Guhle in tight in the dying moments.
So, to the shootout, we went.
Ozzy Wiesblatt’s wrister trickled through Bilous’s legs, then Korczak beautifully dangled Serhyenko out of his socks. Bilous then made a magnificent, groin-stretching stop on Raiders vet Matthew Culling, prompting a wild response from the Moose Jaw bench.
“I think the first one squeaked through me,” said Bilous, “and sure, I wanted it back, but it’s a shootout, so all I could do was focus on the next shot.
“(My teammates) are amazing,” he added.
“Every blocked shot, every goal, every save, they’re cheering the guys on. We’re a team here, so it was awesome to hear and see that.”
Enter Mr. Yager and the game-winner.
Moose Jaw’s penalty kill, a league-worst 72.5 percent a year ago, has been an under-the-radar key to the Warriors’ strong start, as they have only allowed a single goal on 10 chances through the two games.
“Penalty killing is all about determination and willingness to block shots and do the dirty work,” Bilous said.
“We’re off to a great start, and we just need to keep up the hard work.”
The Warriors are next in action Tuesday night for the first ‘Trans-Canada Clash’ with the Regina Pats, puck drops at 8:00 Saskatchewan Time.