The road for a league and provincial championship begins on Friday night for the Moose Jaw WINWAR AAA Warriors, as they kick off their 2023 Saskatchewan Male U18 AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL) playoffs.
Moose Jaw’s first-round opponent is the third seed, Saskatoon Contacts who won the four-game regular season series 3-1.
Though Moose Jaw is the lower seed in the series, they may have an advantage, as the Warriors finished the season on a 14-4-0-1 run with a four and eight-game win streak over that span.
Their season-ending success is something head coach Trevor Weisgerber hopes will propel them to a Game 1 victory on Friday night.
“They have a good hockey team,” says Weisgerber. “They’re well-rounded and have good goaltending. We’re going to have to play our game. We want to make sure that we get pucks behind their defenseman and that we’re doing a good job taking control of the puck. If we turn pucks over against this team, they will make you pay.”
The Warriors will hit the road for Game 1 on Friday night to Merlis Belsher Place – a rink they haven’t been able to win in this season, being outscored 11-6 in two games.
“We need everyone on board. We have to have all four lines going on Friday night along with our six defenseman and our goaltending needs to be good,” adds Weisgerber. “If we come and play the way that we have been and if we use that momentum, we’ll be fine.”
The last time Moose Jaw was in Saskatoon, the Contacts were able to score two unanswered goals in the third period to win 4-3 on Jan. 8.
Moose Jaw’s lone win against the Contacts came in the season finale on Feb. 5 in a 6-2 victory. Liam Fitzpatrick had a hat-trick, while Grady Hoffman added four assists in the win. Jonah Pinel, Austin Woodley, and Drew Fleger chipped in with a goal apiece.
As Weisgerber alluded to, a Game 1 victory will rely on all four lines producing especially their top two lines who have three of the top seven leading scorers in the SMAAAHL. Leading that pack is Moose Jaw’s own Liam Fitzpatrick who has a league-leading 36 goals and 73 points in 44 games.
Grady Hoffman and Connor Miller have put together a stellar season in a Warriors uniform. Miller put together a 56-point season with 25 goals – 13 of those on the powerplay, which led the league. Hoffman also had a 56-point season with 37 assists to go along with 19 goals. His 37 assists are third-best in the league. Those numbers were good enough for a tie for 5th in SMAAAHL scoring.
On the blue line, the Warriors are led by their captain Ryder Knutson, who in his final season finished with 41 points, which led all defenseman in the league.
In net, the Warriors will rely on Ryan Bain who finished the season with a 15-6-0-3 record with a 3.38 GAA and a .894 SV%. Prior to last Friday’s loss in Regina, Bain was 10-0 in his last 10 starts posting a 2.30 GAA and a 0.925 SV%, and one shutout.
Weyburn’s Ryan Hicks also put together a solid season in the Moose Jaw crease, as he finished with an 8-9-0-1 record, 3.93 GAA, and 0.870 SV%.
The Moose Jaw Events Centre will be the host for Game 2 in the series at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Ticket information for Sunday’s game can be found HERE.
It hasn’t been easy for the Warriors this season, as prior to their recent success the team was having its fair share of struggles.
Prior to the Christmas break, Moose Jaw had a 10-13-0-3 record and was sitting in eighth place, teetering on the edge of a playoff spot.
Weisgerber explained that after the team returned from the holidays, something changed.
“Guys started playing the right way and it was good. They have done a great job and put us in this situation.”
“They started doing the little things right and playing the game the right way. When we say play the game the right way a lot of it is playing above pucks, taking control of the puck, not turning the puck over, and being in a good position.”
For Weisgerber, he has had to change up his coaching tactics this season and adapt.
“It was a lot of teaching and staying on players that maybe don’t have it so they are getting it, along with lots of video. Now, it’s more sitting back and correcting where you need to.”
The fourth-year coach concluded by summing up this season in two words – adversity and an open mind.