For the past few weeks, the Moose Jaw Warriors weren’t able to put together a consistent effort from night-to-night, but that wasn’t the case this weekend.
The Warriors cruised past the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Kootenay Ice, outscoring their two Central Division opponents by a combined score of 8-0 on the way to back-to-back shutout wins for the Western Hockey League’s number one team.
“When we skate like we did all game (on Saturday), that’s when we’re best and I don’t remember the last time that we skated that hard for three periods, it’s great to see,” said head coach Tim Hunter. “I know they’re capable of it, they know they’re capable of it and they showed it.”
Heading into the weekend, the Warriors talked about improving their defensive play as they look to prepare for a playoff run. They did just that over the two-game set, holding Lethbridge to 20 shots on Friday and limiting Kootenay to just 15 shots on Saturday.
The success came from the forwards, defence and goalie Brody Willms all making key plays in the defensive zone.
“It’s a team accomplishment to earn a shutout and we played hard for the full 60 minutes in both games this weekend and that showed in the scores,” said Willms, who now has four shutouts this season.
“All six (defencemen) played really well and our forward were good defensively as well, staying with the high guy in the offensive zone and coming back hard to home plate, so all around it was a good defensive game for us in both games.”
Before this weekend, Willms had started just one of the Warriors’ last four games. Hunter said they felt that getting Willms rest was going to be key for the team heading down the stretch.
“He had a little tweak of an injury a little while ago, we gave him some games off, played Adam (Evanoff) a bit more to give him some time and at the same time rest Willms, it’s going to be a heavy schedule moving forward,” said Hunter. “Willms is our number one guy, getting him in a groove and feeling confident was really important.”
Willms said he feels on top of his game coming out of the two shutouts, “With the schedule that we’ve had lately, there was lots of time during the week to get in practice time to fine tune my game and get it back to where I wanted it to be,” he said.
“You definitely try to build on your performances in net and if you can put a few strong ones together, you start to build on that and your confidence grows with it.”
The Warriors received stellar play from their defence over the two games.
Brandon Schuldhaus scored on Saturday and played a physical game all weekend, finishing a combined plus-four. Dmitri Zaitsev had a goal and three points on Saturday and was plus-five for the weekend.
“Brandon played his best game I’ve seen him play and Zaitsev as well, moving pucks and getting pucks to the net,” said Hunter. “They all chipped in and did a good job, but I thought those two guys were real good.”
Kale Clague had three assists over the two games, while Josh Brook and Oleg Sosunov also picked up an assist each. Matthew Benson also put together two strong games.
Milestone Weekend for Burke
Brayden Burke became the first player in the Canadian Hockey League to reach the 100-point milestone on Saturday when he riffled a shot into the Kootenay net early in the first period.
“It was nice to get it right off the start there, nice pass from (Justin) Almeida and I just had to tap it in,” said Burke. “Obviously it’s nice to get the personal accolade, but the team played real well tonight.”
Burke would finish with two goals and three points on the night, giving him 102 points on the year. He sits two points back of Swift Current’s Glenn Gawdin for top spot in the league after the Broncos’ captain past him on Sunday.
This is the second 100-point season in the past three years for Burke, who hit 109 points in 2015-16 with Lethbridge. He still has 18 games remaining this season.
“I come into every season trying to just play my best, create offence and do my thing on the ice and the points will come,” he said. “I’ve had some good stretches here where I’ve done really well and I’ve had some where I had to work harder at it, so it’s been a good learning curve over the season, but I’m happy to get there.”
Burke currently has 74 assists, which are 18 back of Theo Fleury’s franchise record.
Busy Stretch Ahead for Warriors
After playing just six games over the past three weeks, the Warriors will hit the ice for 11 games over the next 18 days, including nine against the East Division.
It starts this week with three games in five nights against the rival Regina Pats. The Warriors will head to the Queen City on Wednesday; they will host the Pats on Friday; and then head back to Regina on Sunday.