Goaltending is always a massive key during any playoff series and heading into the Moose Jaw Warriors’ match-up with the Swift Current Broncos, that is definitely the case for this first round series.
The Warriors have 19-year-old Zach Sawchenko between the pipes – he's coming off his second straight Eastern Conference Goalie of the Year award – while the Broncos counter with 20-year-old Jordan Papirny, who has 49 playoff games under his belt.
These two goalies have met before in the playoffs with Papirny’s Brandon Wheat Kings edging Sawchenko and the Warriors in five games in the second round last year. Papirny and the Wheat Kings went on to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
The showdown will be one of the key areas to watch in how this series plays out, but neither goalie feels the pressure to out play the other.
“Papirny’s been there, obviously winning a championship last year, but we’ve got a good team here, we’ve got a real special group,” said Sawchenko. “Jordan is a great goalie, he’ll be tough to beat, but with the fire power that we have in here, I don’t think that will be an issue.”
“I don’t really look into (the goalie match-up) too much,” added Papirny. “I try to just focus on myself and the things going on in my head and in the crease, so I’ve got enough there to keep me busy and I’ll just do my thing.”
Sawchenko finished the regular season with career-highs in wins (30), goals against average (2.79) and save percentage (0.917), which was also the fifth highest in the Western Hockey League.
At the other end, Papirny had an up-and-down year with the Broncos and Wheat Kings, posting a 21-18-1-2 record overall with a 3.21 goals against average and a 0.907 save percentage.
He’s went 8-7-0-2 since joining the Broncos at the WHL Trade Deadline with a 3.15 goals against average and 0.909 save percentage.
Papirny has the big edge in playoff experience thanks to the past two seasons with the high powered Wheat Kings, playing in 49 post-season games compared to 10 that Sawchenko has.
Sawchenko said he gained some valuable experience last year during the playoffs and can lean on some other big games that he’s played in during his hockey career.
“I haven’t been in many playoff games, but I was fortunate enough to be in two series last year and that experience is going to be huge for me,” said Sawchenko. “I’ve played in big games – the Under-18s gold medal game and other Hockey Canada events – and you see that single-game elimination playoffs, anyone can steal a game, but it’s tough to consistently put together a good effort and steal a series.”
The Warriors were able to get to Papirny during last year’s playoff series, scoring 17 goals on the veteran netminder over the course of five games for a 0.872 save percentage.
Warriors head coach Tim Hunter is confident that the team will be able to attack Papirny, who missed the final two weeks of the regular season with an illness.
“He’s got a lot of playoff experience, a WHL title, but he’s had a so-so year and his numbers aren’t as good as Zach’s,” said Hunter. “We have to put a lot of rubber on him and look for second chance opportunities because he’s very good at stopping the first shot.”
The goaltending battle will be just one of the many factors in how the series plays out.
We’ll find out how much it plays into the series when the two sides hit the ice on Friday night at Mosaic Place for Game 1. Puck drops at 7 p.m. and the Pre-Game Show is on the air at 6:40 p.m. on Country 100.