It isn’t often a coach gets to work behind the bench with some of the best players to take the ice at that level of hockey.
Moose Jaw Warriors head coach Tim Hunter is pretty much an old veteran of those opportunities at this point; he worked with Team WHL in Game 1 and 2 of the Canada Russia Series, the latest in a string of showings behind all-star and national team benches.
To say the least, it’s all been more than positive, with the most recent showing offering another look at some of the best the Western Hockey League has to offer.
“We’ve been playing a lot similar to the way we want to play at the World Junior, but you forget some of those things, it slips away and this was a good reminder,” Hunter said Thursday afternoon after the Tribe took to the ice in preparation for this weekend. “So this was great, we saw a few things in the games that we did, some of the other players (Portlands’ Cody) Glass and (Tri-City’s Michael) Rasmussen and (Spokane’s) Jared Anderson-Dolan are players we don’t get to see very often and some of the nuances they add to the offence.
“So little things, but a lot of the little things add up. So it was a great experience as a coach for myself.”
Working with a crew of players with that level of skill isn’t a run-of-the-mill experience, either — but that’s not to say it doesn’t involve a lot of work to get everything flowing in the right direction.
“They all need direction for sure, and they’re all smart, they all follow a template, but they make mistakes and have their moments as well,” Hunter said. “And your best players aren’t always your best players defensively. There were some good two-way players on that team, and some who were just good one-way players. We saw that, and the guys who were good one-way players probably won’t get invited to Christmas camp.”
One player who likely won’t have that problem will be Warriors captain Brett Howden. The Tribe’s 19-year-old standout only played one of the two games before suffering an undisclosed injury that has him sidelined day-to-day. But that period-and-a-half of play was enough to attract plenty of attention as his line generated plenty of chances and he ended up with a goal and an assist.
“Brett played really well, he played hard and was good on the second line and the power play unit,” Hunter said. “They were happy with him, I was very happy with Brett, and Brett will be at the December world junior camp for sure, and he has to make a spot for himself… Brett sees the ice very well, he’s scored some big goals for us, he’s become a real leader for us and we’re really proud off all that.”
Warriors forward Noah Gregor was a late invite and turned in a physical style of play that almost resulted in a goal in Game 1. He was held without a point in the end.
“I told Noah, ‘it doesn’t matter how you get there, you take advantage of your opportunities,’” Hunter said. “He played hard, he played well and I played him a little more in the Swift Current game because he was a ‘98 and all the Russians were ‘98s. No disappointments in how he played, so I’m happy for that and we’ll see if he gets invited in December.”
The Warriors are back in action tonight when they travel to Regina and Sunday when they host the Pats (4 p.m., Mosaic Place).