Down to four defencemen and without their captain, the Moose Jaw Warriors gutted out a win on Sunday afternoon at Mosaic Place.
The Warriors played a strong team game to pick up a 3-1 win over the Regina Pats, sweeping their two-game weekend set against their East Division rivals and moving into first place overall in the Western Hockey League.
“(That win) was a testament to our character, the way we play, how we play as a group, our goaltending, our commitment to play in our own end and we have skill up front that are going to score goals when they have the chance,” said head coach Tim Hunter.
The win was the fifth straight, and eighth in the past nine games, for the Warriors, who entered the game without captain Brett Howden and top-four defencemen Josh Brook and Dmitri Zaitsev.
Moose Jaw then lost defenceman Jett Woo in the first period and fellow 17-year-old rearguard Matthew Benson in the second period to leave the team down to four defencemen, three of them rookies.
“It was huge to lose Jett real early there and then lose Benny in the second, those four D really stepped and did the job for us, and even the forwards stepped up and Willms stepped up in the net, so it was huge to see the team come together and get a character win like that,” said forward Brayden Burke after the win.
Rookie defencemen Chase Hartje was been pressed into a big role for the Warriors and he responded on Sunday with a first star effort to help lead the defensive group, which had just Hartje, Oleg Sosunov, Colin Paradis and Brendan Kwiatkowski remaining for the final 30 minutes of the game.
Hartje said the unit just pulled together to get through the game shorthanded, “It was pretty tough, we definitely didn’t expect to be down to four D, but we buckled down and got it done,” he said. “I just kept moving my feet and moving up to the forwards, not trying to do too much.”
Jayden Halbgewachs scored his third goal of the weekend just 3:46 into the game, but Regina was able to tie the game up about ten minutes later when Bryan Lockner banged in a rebound to end a back-and-forth opening frame tied at 1-1.
Moose Jaw played a smart defensive game in the second period and allowed their fore check to control the pace of the game, which eventually led to Noah Gregor scoring the go-ahead goal with just under seven minutes remaining in the second.
In the third, the Warriors were really able to control the game and held the Pats away from their net to stay in front by a goal. Tanner Jeannot forced a turnover in the offensive zone with just over a minute left and roofed a shot over Regina goalie Tyler Brown to seal the win.
The Warriors out-shot the Pats 20-8 in the third period and 46-26 overall in the game.
“We’re finding a way to win these games and that’s a good sign, we have a lot of guys that care about each other that are committed to trying to do the right things and not cheating on the play,” said Hunter on the team’s run of success.
Hunter didn’t have an update on the status of Woo or Benson after the game, but added that it was serious enough for them not to return.
The Warriors have a busy week ahead as they prepare for four games in five nights, starting on Tuesday in Swift Current against the high scoring Broncos.