With a new look and a ton of returning talent, the Moose Jaw Warriors are aiming to make the 2022-23 Western Hockey League season one to remember.
“There’s an energy, there’s an excitement in the dressing room, but we also know that the time to perform is now — we’re not young and developing anymore, it’s time to go,” Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary said.
The Warriors finished second in the East Division, had home ice advantage in the first round and advanced into the second round of the 2022 WHL Playoffs during the 2021-22 season.
Those strides are what the young squad is hoping to build off entering the new season, which gets underway on Friday night in Regina.
“We took a big step last year, the end of a rebuilt over the last few years, so we’re ready for a big season here,” Warriors forward Brayden Yager said.
The core of the Warriors’ lineup, led by Yager, Jagger Firkus and Denton Mateychuk and joined by Atley Calvert, Max Wanner, Cole Jordan and Eric Alarie, have been playing together for three seasons now.
The group has went through the ups and downs of learning how to play, and win, in the WHL and have a bond off the ice that they feel will transfer onto the ice.
“It plays a big role in how well we do on the ice, being such a close group is something pretty special, not a lot of teams can get as close as we are,” Yager said.
“It’s pretty special,” Calvert added. “The tighter the group off the ice, the tighter the group on the ice, so it’s going to be a fun year.”
The benefit of a large returning core also comes with the Warriors being able to hit the group running on the ice. O’Leary said the Warriors know their identity and how the team wants to play each night.
“The mentality has been going back for the last couple of years, it’s that relentless mentality that there’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs and things that are outside of our control, but at the end of the day, those are just circumstances and it’s always about us and what we do,” he said.
“It starts with races and battles and then our skill can take over from there.”
The Warriors will open the season with a Trans-Canada Clash against the Regina Pats. The two rivals will meet in a home-and-home set on opening weekend.
Yager said there’s no better way to kick off the season.
“It’s always exciting, it seems to be a little bumpier and a little edgy as soon as we step on the ice against Regina,” he said.
“They’re going to be a good team this year too and we’re going to try and take it to them.”
This season will also open with no capacity restrictions due to COVID-19, allowing for full arenas right from the start of the season.
Calvert said the Warriors want to see the Moose Jaw Events Centre rocking each night.
“We feed off [the fans], we play for them,” he said.
“Pack the barn and be loud,” Yager added. “It’s going to be a big year and we’re going to try and win something big.”
The Warriors and Pats face off at 7 p.m. on Friday night at the Brandt Centre. Tune into Country 100 for all the action with Voice of the Warriors, James Gallo. The Pre-Game Show opens the night at 6:40 p.m.
On Saturday, the Warriors will host the Pats for a rematch at the Hangar in downtown Moose Jaw. Doors will open early at 5:30 p.m. for a pre-game party on the concourse, which will include happy hour pricing and a concert by Saskatchewan artist Jordyn Pollard.