Written by Cami Kepke/WHL.ca

Saginaw, Mich.—The Moose Jaw Warriors battled back, but couldn’t overcome a tough start in their opening match of the Memorial Cup.

Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Brayden Yager scored twice and added an assist in the 5-4 loss to the host Saginaw Spirit.

Moose Jaw struggled to get pucks on net in the opening period, while netminder Jackson Unger was standing on his head- and his side, back, and in the splits, for that matter- at the other end of the ice.

The 2024 NHL Draft-eligible goaltender turned aside 17 shots in the first frame alone, including a quad of impressive, sprawling stops on Montreal Canadiens prospect Owen Beck on and aggressive Saginaw penalty kill.

The Spirit broke through late in the first period, with Nic Sima deftly tipping a Zayne Parekh shot blocker side on Unger for the first goal of the 2024 Memorial Cup.

Beck came back for more early in the second.

As a Saginaw powerplay expired, Beck wired a shot into the crease, which deflected off a Moose Jaw skater to find twine and double the lead.

Top 2024 NHL Draft prospect Parekh netted his third point of night with a powerful one-timer from the high slot as the Spirit hammered the Warriors with a relentless forecheck.

The Saginaw pile-on continued as blueliner Jorian Donovan wristed a pinpoint shot past the outstretched glove of Unger from above the right circle.

Moose Jaw quieted the crowd with a trio of late strikes to give the Warriors life.

Buffalo Sabres prospect Matthew Savoie stole the puck behind the Spirit net and dished the puck to Brayden Yager for a beautiful one-timer.

Yager’s marker stands as the Warriors’ first goal in franchise history at the Memorial Cup.

Less than a minute later, Captain Denton Mateychuk collected a pass above the hashmarks, outwaited a Spirit defender and roofed a sensational shot through traffic to cut the lead in half.

The Warriors continued the offensive outburst by picking off a Saginaw breakout pass just before it could clear the host team’s blue liner.

Yager and Mateychuk connected for a crisp give-and-go, with Yager, a Pittsburgh Penguins first-round pick, ripping the puck past a diving Andrew Oke.

The impressive showing saw Moose Jaw pot three goals in 1:35 to trail by a single goal heading into the final 20 minutes.

But an early tally by Josh Bloom in the final frame would seal the Warriors’ fate.

A Jagger Firkus goal that would have cut the deficit to one again was overturned upon review after the play was found to be offside.

With an extra attacker on the ice, the Warriors’ big guns went back to work with Mateychuk and Yager teeing up Savoie for a thunderous shot from the hash marks.

Despite the valiant comeback effort, the Moose Jaw Warriors would drop their opening match by a final score of 5-4.

Unger made 31 saves in the loss.

The Warriors will battle for their first win of the tournament on Monday, May 27 at 5:30 p.m. MST when they face the OHL Champion London Knights.