It was an early exit from the playoffs last year for the Moose Jaw Warriors, but this year they’re hoping to parlay an incredible regular season into a shot at the Memorial Cup.
The Warriors finished off the regular season with 109 points and winning the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for finishing first place in the WHL.
“What it really does is just give you confidence that you can win and you can win against anyone in the league and that’s what we’ve done,” said head coach Tim Hunter in an interview on The Green Zone. “Confidence is what you did yesterday and it helps you perform tomorrow, that’s really all it is for us. The confidence factor that we’re a good team.”
That confidence comes from not only the best regular season record in the league but also off the play of some of the league’s best players.
Jayden Halbgewachs leads the WHL in goals scored at 70 but amassed a total of 129 points this season. Not far behind him is teammate Brayden Burke who wracked up 113 points and 82 assists.
It was also a career year for goaltender Brody Wilms who gathered 37 wins, held a 3.00 goals against average and had four shutouts this season.
An already bright team by the Christmas break got even more lethal by adding defenceman Kale Clague at the trade deadline. Clague gained a lot of attention for his performance at the World Juniors, helping Team Canada win gold.
“Our guys are excited the post-season is finally here,” Hunter said. “We got the regular season out of the way with, we won the Scotty Munro trophy and we can move on and get down to business now.”
That business starts with a matchup in the first round against the Prince Albert Raiders, a team who has surged at the end of the season into the playoffs via the second wild-card spot.
Hunter said the team is quite accustomed to playing the Raiders, having faced them in the playoffs two years ago and matching up against them near the end of the season.
“They really had a good finish and their goaltending has been solidified … so they’ll be a tough team to play,” Hunter said.
“We know what the test presents, we’ve got a good week of practice here in preparation for them,” he added.
Add all that to the sour taste left from an early playoff exit last year and Hunter is expecting better results.
The Warriors finished the 2016-17 season in second place and faced the third place Swift Current Broncos in the first round of the playoffs. The team went a hard seven games with the Broncos ending up on top. A disappointment for the Warriors, but also a lesson.
“Well, the biggest thing (we learned) was how hard it is to play in the playoffs and how hard you have to compete and that the goals come differently.”
“(There is) more pressure on us playing well defensively and that’s what happens in the playoffs, it gets tighter,” Hunter continued. “Goals are more precious and teams defend harder and you don’t get as many power plays and all of these types of things, but again, the confidence that we have that we can score goals … that’s a big factor too.”
But Hunter doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself. The team needs to keep its focus on Prince Albert to come out the other side.
“We didn’t have goals set out at the beginning of the year finishing first overall in the league but we wanted to finish first in our division, win our division and solidify that home-ice advantage in the first round at least … and now we have it all the way through. But in reality, it’s one playoff series at a time here, and that’s just home ice advantage against P.A.”
“(There are) no easy nights in our division,” Hunter said.
The Moose Jaw Warriors and Prince Albert Raiders square off in game one of their series on Friday at Mosaic Place.