They might be the second-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League and the top-ranked team in the Western Hockey League, but the Moose Jaw Warriors still have to play at that level if they’re going to find continuous success this season.
Case in point, their game Wednesday against the East Division last-place Saskatoon Blades.
The Warriors might have been missing five regular defenceman and had a host of rookies covering their blueline, but that was also the case 24 hours earlier in a their 7-4 win over fellow CHL Top-10 ranked Swift Current.
Turns out that hard work needs to happen all the time if you’re going to beat even the lesser-lights of the WHL.
“At some point teams are going to take advantage of (the missing defencemen) and that’s part of what happened last night,” said Warriors coach Tim Hunter. “Especially when we had tough games on the weekend against Regina and a tough game against Swift Current. And then, when our players want to go in there and disrespect their work ethic, you get what we got.”
The Warriors took the ice without standout rearguards Jett Woo, Dmitri Zaitsev and Josh Brook, along with rookie Matthew Benson. That left Colin Paradis as the lone veteran on the blueline, with rookies Oleg Sosunov, Chase Hartje and Brendan Kwiatkowski joining him in logging the lion’s share of minutes.
The Tribe resorted to calling up 2017 Bantam draft pick Daemon Hunt and 2016 pick Matthew Sanders in an attempt to fill the holes.
With their patchwork defence, the Warriors were hoping to see the kind of work that had propelled them to a win over the Broncos 24 hours earlier.
That didn’t happen.
“It starts at the top with our leadership group, they didn’t want to dig in last night until it was a little too late and that’s what happens,” Hunter said.
Noah Gregor and Justin Almeida scored in the first period as the two teams left the opening frame tied 2-2. Saskatoon scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the second to take a 4-2 lead before Tanner Jeannot pulled the Tribe within one with just over two minutes left in the period and Daemon Hunt scored the first goal of his WHL career midway through the third to tie the game.
Evan Fiala scored the game winner for the Blades with 1:12 remaining.
Brody Willms turned aside 46 shots in taking the loss, the Warriors fired 38 at the Blades’ Ryan Kubic.
Moose Jaw fell to 16-5-0-0 with the loss, Saskatoon improved to 8-10-1-0.
The Warriors are back in action tonight when they host the Calgary Hitmen – with coach Hunter expecting a much better effort from his troops.
“We’re going to bounce back from that,” Hunter said. “We’re going to give guys another chance and if they play at the start the way they played against Saskatoon against Calgary, they’ll be on the bench the rest of the night, just like they were last night.”