The Moose Jaw Warriors fought off a third period charge from the Medicine Hat Tigers and grabbed a game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation to pick up a 5-4 win on Tuesday at Mosaic Place.
“We were in for a game all night. It was a good test, that’s why they’re in the lead in the Central,” said Warriors head coach Tim Hunter after the game.
Brayden Burke returned to the lineup to score the game-winner with just 24 seconds left. He finished with three points, while goalie Brody Willms turned away 43 shots to backstop the Warriors to the win.
“Getting the goal in the last minute to win it is nice, but we’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up here,” said Burke, who leads the Warriors with 52 points in 28 games this season.
“We’re holding onto the puck too long, some guys just have to move it, come to the puck and be a bit better as a team. Overall, once we got into the offence zone, we had our legs moving and it wasn’t bad, so we’ve just got to clean up a couple of things in the defensive zone and neutral zone.”
The win improved the Warriors’ record to 22-5-1-1 on the year and kept them four points clear of the Swift Current Broncos for top spot in the East Division and overall in the Western Hockey League.
Moose Jaw had a 3-0 lead heading into the third period, but the Tigers came out firing in the third and scored four goals in the opening 9:23 to tie the game up at 4-4.
Willms was peppered from all angles in the third as the Tigers fired 26 shots on the Warriors’ net. Willms was especially key late in the third period when the Tigers were handed a 5-on-3 power play for 1:18. The 19-year-old netminder made some huge saves to keep the game tied.
Head Coach Tim Hunter said Willms made some big saves at key times to give them a chance to secure the win.
“The team hasn’t played very well in front of him defensively (this season), so tonight was not unlike that, they had their moments where they didn’t play well defensively, Medicine Hat capitalized, he made some big stops in the third period, right to the end, to get us the win, and that’s what number one goalies have to do and he did that tonight,” said Hunter.
While Moose Jaw was able to put together a three-goal lead through 40 minutes, the game was far from one-sided with the Warriors just capitalizing on their chances.
Moose Jaw opened the scoring on the power play just 5:33 into the game. Burke went to defenceman Josh Brook, who swung the puck to the slot for Jayden Halbgewachs to finish off his 27th goal of the season, which was also his 200th WHL point.
The two teams pushed the pace throughout the game, but it took another power play in the second period for the next goal to find its way into the back of the net.
Only ten seconds into their second power play, the Warriors moved the puck quickly from Burke inside the right circle, to Tate Popple at the goal line, and then to Justin Almeida between the circles where his quick shot beat Tigers goalie Michael Bullion to make it 2-0.
Just under two minutes later, the Warriors went up by three when Tanner Jeannot grabbed a loose puck at the left goal line and then powered his way to the net where he pushed in his 21st of the season.
Medicine Hat was a determined team in the third period as they outshot the Warriors, 26-9, in the final frame and their speed and aggressive fore-check led to plenty of attack time.
Just 30 seconds into the third period, third-year Tiger Max Gerlach burst down the Warriors’ left wall and snapped a shot past Willms and then crawled back to within one at 5:11 on a goal from Haydn Ostir.
Moose Jaw went back up by two at 6:26, when Noah Gregor snapped his 13th goal of the season and the Warriors third power play goal of the game.
Back down by two, the Tigers came fighting back shortly after the Moose Jaw goal. At 7:29, Ostir scored his second of the game to pull back to within one and then just over a minute later, the Warriors turned the puck over on top of their crease, where Jaeger White’s quick shot tied the game at four.
In the final minute of regulation, the Warriors trio of Almeida, Jeannot and Burke rushed up the ice. Jeannot came across the right line and then dropped the puck to a trailing Almeida going through the middle of the ice, he faded to his left and then put the puck on the stick of Burke on top of the right crease where he lifted in his 13th of the season to give the Warriors the win.
Burke and Almeida finished with a goal and three points each, Jeannot had a goal and two points and Matthew Benson picked up two assists.
Moose Jaw finished 3-for-4 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
“We have confidence right now, we believe we can beat any team and we’ve just got to go out, play a full sixty minutes and show what we can and we’ll be alright,” said Burke as the Warriors get set to head out on a three-game Alberta road trip for the rest of the week.
The trip starts on Thursday in Edmonton. You can catch all the action on Country 100 starting with the Westrum Lumber Timber Mart Pre-Game Show starting at 7:40 p.m. From there the guys will head to Red Deer on Friday and then Calgary on Sunday afternoon.