Lots of youth is the mantra for the Moose Jaw U18 AA Warriors this season, as they only have seven returning players from last year's squad.
The abundance of new players hasn’t phased head coach Mike Russel though.
“We’re looking forward to trying to build off what we’ve built on our program for the last couple of seasons and we’ve seen a lot of success in the last two years,” says Russell.
Russell adds that roughly 12 players from last year’s squad were moved up to the U18 AAA, Junior A, or Junior B levels.
The young Warriors team will face their fair of adversity this year playing in a Saskatchewan AA Hockey League (SAAHL) that is predominantly dominated by 16 and 17-year-olds. Coming into this season the Warriors have a number of 15-year-olds making the jump to the U18 AA level from U15 AA.
“We’ll have a lot of learning curves, but so far in our short season, the boys are buying in really well. A lot of them are coming in and it’s a lot of new systems and things they’ve never seen before or different systems. The buy-in portion is huge and right now we’re getting great buy-in from these young fellows.”
Russell says the first-year players on the team aren’t shying away from the increased skill, speed, and physical play that they experienced in the U15 AA level.
“Talking to some of the boys right now they got big smiles on their faces but pretty much every one of them that has come in has said wow this is fast, so that will be a part of it.”
According to Russell, their identity this season will be a young team that is rebuilding, but he’s confident that they will be able to win, be competitive and look ahead to future seasons.
Moose Jaw is looking to build on what was a losing season a year ago finishing with an 11-22-2-0-1 record and a 10th-place finish in the South Sask division.
The Warriors will be without their leading scorer from last season Marc Belanger who put up 22 goals and 19 assists for 41 points.
A positive sign for the Warriors to start the year is their first eight games of the season are all at home. Their first road game isn’t until Nov. 9 when they travel to Notre Dame.
“Hopefully that’s a benefit to us being able to play at home and usually it is easier to pick up a win at home so hopefully that will help kickstart us off to a good season.”
One of the best parts of the hockey season is travelling to tournaments. This season the Warriors have a big AA tournament lined up in Lethbridge, Atla., on Nov. 25-27, along with a few overnight road trips where they will play teams in the Centre Four division.
Moose Jaw kicked off their season on Oct 1. with a 6-1 loss to the Regina Rangers, where goalie Casson Silbernagel stopped 70 of 76 shots. Benjamin King picked up the lone goal for the Warriors.
The Warriors will be back on the ice on Oct. 15 when they host the Weyburn John Hulbert Construction Wings at the Pla-Mor Palace Bert Hunt arena at 5:30 p.m.
A full roster of this year’s Moose Jaw U18 AA Warriors can be found HERE.