Keith Hershmiller

Moose Jaw GM Ripplinger: “We want to be contenders next year”

 

The Warriors announced its new general manager Jason Ripplinger Thursday, and the words that came out of his mouth should make Moose Jaw fans very happy.

Competitive-yet-inconsistent is probably the best way to describe the Hub’s youngest club over halfway through; but the development demonstrated by the likes of 2003-born Eric Alarie, 2004 birth years Denton Mateychuk and Jagger Firkus, and the magnificent potential of the highly touted No. 3 overall pick Brayden Yager, has the new boss speaking heady phrases.

“We want to be contenders next year,” Ripplinger said at his introductory press conference.

“We want to get through this hub being a .500 hockey club, make some strides, and make sure everybody improves this year, and then next year we want to take a big step. I really think we have a chance to do something special in Moose Jaw very soon: we have a good group of players, we’re young, we’re fast and we’re strong. That’s what we’re here for: to develop and to win.”

The traditional path to championship-level success at the Major Junior level has long been to be very good to start a year, and then mortgage the future to some degree in order to be great by the end.

Yet with the first-round picks all hitting from the past couple of seasons, and solid young depth pieces like Atley Calvert and Max Wanner, both from the Moose Jaw U18 program in tow, Ripplinger appears to believe the Warriors are closer to what he hopes is the finished product than many might have thought when the Subway WHL Hub began.

“We’re just going to take (whether we make trades) year by year,” he said.

“When guys become exceptional, like Mateychuk or Yager, you may not have them long enough, so we have to be careful in a situation like this where if we feel ready to go for it, then (whichever year it is) we are going to make a run for it.”

A big piece of the puzzle they hope to fill if contending is truly in the near future is the two import slots. The nature of this campaign has allowed Canadian-based CHL teams to take a step back and consider that crucial element, as due to Canada’s closed borders only those with Canadian citizenship have been allowed to play.

The biggest name on that radar is big Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, who played two games for his country at the World Juniors, has been the starter for Lulea in the Swedish Hockey League – one of the best professional leagues in the world – and who will go high in the first round in the next NHL draft.

If Ripplinger could land Wallstedt, it would send shockwaves through the WHL and beyond.

The other spots look likely to be one of two Czech forwards. One option, Martin Lang, is a skillful winger who also represented his nation at the 2021 World Juniors, and was just under a point-per-game for Moose Jaw after coming over from Kamloops in exchange for defenceman Libor Zabransky Jan. 2020. Option No. 2 is 2003-born goal scorer Martin Rysavy, who projects to go in the second or third round of the next NHL draft, and looks a great bet to represent the Czech Republic at the upcoming IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Texas.

Ripplinger noted that he’ll begin intensive discussions with those three and their agents once the Hub is completed.

With two of those Europeans onboard and a stable of elite young talent, Moose Jaw Warriors fans have a lot to get excited about very soon.

“I believe we are going in the right direction,” Ripplinger said.

“In the last two years (head coach) Mark O’Leary, (former general manager) Alan Millar and I have decided not to change our culture.  We’ve traded some key pieces to fill our cupboards, and give us some assets to make our team better in the future here, and in the next few years we’re going to try to win a championship.”

 

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