It was a showdown between two of the best teams in the Western Hockey League and they didn’t disappoint.

The Moose Jaw Warriors had an extra gear on Tuesday night as they pulled out a 7-4 win over the Victoria Royals at Mosaic Place.

The win makes Moose Jaw the first team in the WHL to reach the 20-win plateau, doing it in just 26 games.

“We played good, we had a pretty good start, got away from things a bit in the second, but bounced back good and came into the third with the lead and took control from there,” said Captain Brett Howden.

18-year-old forward Justin Almeida scored two big goals in the third period, first extending Moose Jaw’s lead to 5-3 just 4:03 into the period and then responding just 1:56 after the Royals cut the Warriors lead back down to one. Howden fired a shot into an empty net with just two seconds left to seal the win. 

Almeida finished with his first career hat trick and four points, while Tanner Jeannot had a goal and three assists, Howden picked up a goal and three points and Brayden Burke picked up three helpers.  Jayden Halbgewachs potted two goals to give him a team-leading 26 on the year.

18-year-old defenceman Josh Brook picked an assist in his first game back in the lineup this season after missing the 25 previous games.

“They played like men and we got the outcome. Our top-six forwards were our best players and it showed on the score sheet and in the game, and that’s what we need every night,” said Head Coach Tim Hunter after the game.

Hunter had challenged the Warriors over the past few days after they lost to the Prince Albert Raiders on Saturday and hadn’t played well over their previous five games.

The Warriors responded with one of their more complete efforts of the season.

“The leadership group had a talk and we all knew that we had to be better, from the 20-year-olds to the 16-year-olds, everyone had to pick it up and we did that tonight,” said Almeida, who is one of three Warriors in the top-20 in scoring with 34 points in 26 games.

The entire game was played at a high speed with both teams having their moments of control.

Halbgewachs opened the scoring for the Warriors just 3:11 into the game, but Royals star Matthew Phillips was able to answer just past the midway point of the first to tie the game.

The two sides traded goals over the final five minutes of the first with Tanner Jeannot banging in his 18th of the season and Jeremy Masella scoring his first WHL goal for Victoria to send the game into the first intermission tied at 2-2.

The Warriors got into a bit of penalty trouble to open the second period and former Moose Jaw Generals forward Jared Legien continued his strong start to the year with a power play goal just 2:36 into the frame, which gave the Royals their only lead of the game.

Moose Jaw killed off 1:23 of 5-on-3 on a couple minutes later and that’s where they found their spark. Almeida tied the game late in the second and Halbgewachs’ second of the game with 1:36 left in the period put the Warriors in front for good.

“That (5-on-3 kill) was big, that could have been a big turning point for them, but it was a big momentum builder for us.  (Brody Willms) stood tall in the net and our killers did their job and really helped us out,” said Howden.

Legien scored his second of the game in the third, but the Warriors limited the Royals to just five shots over the final 20 minutes to seal the win.

Victoria managed just 22 shots on the Warriors’ net in the loss.

“We didn’t give them a lot and the ones that they did get were partly our fault,” said Hunter.  “We wanted a better effort through the lineup 5-on-5 and we hadn’t had that in the previous five games and our power play slipped, so we wanted a more consistent effort tonight and got it.”

The Warriors will now get a couple of days of rest before they host the Swift Current Broncos on Friday at Mosaic Place to kick-off a weekend home-and-home.

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