Warriors suffer first loss of season 4-3 to Swift Current

Randy Palmer/Times-Herald Moose Jaw Warriors goaltender Brody Willms makes a save on Swift Current Broncos forward Tyler Steenbergen during WHl action Sunday afternoon. Willms once again looked solid in goal, making 25 saves in the contest.

Odds are the Moose Jaw Warriors weren’t going to go 72-0 this Western Hockey League season. They just wish their first loss didn’t come in such a frustrating way.
The Warriors created plenty of opportunities and scoring chances against the Swift Current Broncos Sunday afternoon at Mosaic Place, but just couldn’t finish off key passes or pick up rebounds in prime areas. The end result was a 4-3 loss to the Broncos, who improved to 6-0 on the season. The Warriors dropped to 5-1.
“I though the work ethic was definitely there tonight coming off of a bit of a slow game against Kootenay,” said Warriors forward Noah Gregor, who had a goal and a team-high seven shots on net. “We just wanted to work hard… we just gave them a couple goals on our own mistakes that were just a bad turnover or a bad pass.
“That’s all fixable, they’re just mistakes that we’re going to work on here.”
Fans who took in the first round playoff series last season saw pretty much the same thing at times between the two teams — a Broncos team that found a way to somehow choke off passing lanes or just get a stick or leg in the way of a pass or shot. Combine that with a solid showing from goaltender Logan Flodell, who stopped 31 of 34 shots, and you had a near carbon copy of the tough battles last post-season.
“Their D are really good at taking lanes away and blocking shots,” Gregor said. “We learned that in the playoffs last year and their ‘D’ corps is pretty much the same. They’re big and they have long sticks, but I thought we had enough chances to score some more goals but sometimes that happens.”
Conversely, the Broncos took advantage of the handful of solid scoring chances they had and found a way to score. The line of Glenn Gawdin (two assists), Tyler Steenbergen (one goal) and Aleksi Heponiemi (one goal, one assist) continued their torrid start to the season by making the most of their openings; Conner Chaulk and Savhan Khaira scored their other markers.
The game was tied 1-1 after the first with Jayden Halbgewachs scoring the Warriors’ lone goal. Swift Current led 3-1 after a scrambly second period that saw the Tribe hemmed into their own zone for several minute-long stretches, but the Warriors regained the momentum in the third and carried the play. Gregor and Jett Woo had the Warriors’ goals in the final frame.
“We worked hard for our goals, went to the right areas, but there are still some guys who didn’t play their best game tonight and we needed their best game,” said Warriors coach Tim Hunter. “They have a pretty good first line and we handed them four opportunities to score and they scored.”
One very large caveat in the loss came out of the Warriors’ defensive corps — they continue to miss Montreal Canadiens draft pick Josh Brook (wrist surgery), 19-year-old Colin Paradis (upper body) and top prospect Chase Hartje (lower body), meaning four of their six defencemen were rookies, including 15-year-old Midget AAA call-up Daemon Hunt. While the defensive corps played well at times, the inexperience played a role in a handful of missed chances and Broncos opportunities.
“We missed Colin and Josh and it would have been nice to have Hartje in there as well,” Hunter said. “As well as Oleg (Sosunov) has played, he’s still a rookie in this league and finding his way. Then we had another veteran defenceman who didn’t play well and gave pucks away that ended up in our net.
“But it’s early, it’s only one game, and all the stuff we did right was great, it was what asked for, we just need to fix a few things we did wrong.”
The Warriors are back in action Thursday when they host the Edmonton Oil Kings (7 p.m., Mosaic Place).