For the first time since 1999, the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos will meet in the WHL Playoffs.
The two East Division rivals finished second and third in the division standings this year with just five points separating the Warriors from the Broncos.
Moose Jaw held a 4-2-0-0 advantage in their season series and will be looking to carry that success over into the post-season, but both teams are aware that the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season.
“We both know what we’re about and neither team is going to back down, it’s going to be a pretty gritty and exciting series,” said Warriors Captain Brett Howden after Thursday’s practice at Mosaic Place.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this, the end of the season always feels like a drag when the playoffs are right around the corner, but we’ve had a good week of practice and can’t wait to get started.”
The two teams meet for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series on Friday night at Mosaic Place. Game 2 is set for Saturday before the series shifts over to the Credit Union Iplex in Swift Current.
The Warriors have won all three meetings between the two teams at Mosaic Place, outscoring the Broncos 19-8 in those games, while Moose Jaw went 1-2 in Swift Current, winning the first meeting back on Nov. 18, 3-2, but then dropping the next two, including last Friday’s 2-1 loss.
Moose Jaw holds a big edge in playoff experience with 137 total games played compared to Swift Current’s 69 – 49 of which belong to goalie Jordan Papirny.
Warriors head coach Tim Hunter feels that their experienced gained during last year’s run to the second round will serve the Warriors well this time around.
“Our core of our team is still very young and for those guys to play meaningful games last year going to the stretch to get a playoff spot and then to beat P.A. in the first round in five games was huge; and then to play against a great team like Brandon, win a game and have a good series against them is experience that you can’t buy,” said Hunter.
Both teams feature deadly groups of forwards in their top-six, the Broncos are older on the back-end, and both sides have stellar goaltenders between the pipes in Zach Sawchenko and Papirny.
The Warriors are looking to get an edge with some physical play throughout the series.
“Playoffs are a different style of game, everything is a lot harder, everything means a lot more,” said Howden. “You have to start to wear teams down right at the start and we have the type of team where we have that speed and skill, but yet we have a ton of guys that can play that gritty, playoff-type game.”
After having a week to prepare for the games, the Warriors are looking forward to getting on the ice for the first game Friday night.
“Our players are really excited, they know this is the second season, they’ve played hard all year to have home-ice advantage, they’re excited for our crowd here Friday and we feel confident in our team and the way we play and the way we’re going to play against Swift Current, they’re a good team, they’re well coached and it will be a great series,” said Hunter.
Puck drops on Games 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night. You can hear all the action throughout the playoffs on Country 100, the Pre-Game Show will be on the air at 6:40 p.m.
Both Teams at Full Strength
It looks as though both teams will have their full stock of players available for Game 1 on Friday night and for the Warriors that means the return of forward Spencer Bast to the lineup.
Bast has missed the last month of the regular season after suffering a lower body injury against the Broncos on Feb. 25.
“It feels really good to be back,” said Bast after practice on Thursday. “It took a lot longer than I thought it would, but it’s nice to be fully healed and come back for playoffs.”
The Macklin, Saskatchewan product came to the Warriors from the Kamloops Blazers in exchange for an eighth round pick at the WHL Trade Deadline and provided some good grit to the team’s lineup instantly.
He said he’s ready to play whatever role the coaches need in the post-season.
“I’m looking to bring some energy, a little bit of chippy play, put pucks in deep and get to the front of the net,” said Bast.
Hunter added he’s really looking forward to having Bast back to round out the team’s forward group.
“We really missed him down the stretch,” said Hunter. “He’s really gritty, knows how to play the game, he’s been well coached throughout his career and he was part of a real good shutdown line that we put together late in the year.”
The Broncos sat a number of players over the final two games of the regular season, including goalie Jordan Papirny and defencemen Colby Sissons and Max Lajoie, but they’re all expected to be ready to go for Game 1.
As will forward Lane Pederson, who left last Friday’s game after a hit that led to a one-game suspension for Warriors 20-year-old Thomas Foster.