The Moose Jaw Warriors have shown many times through the first part of the season that they can play a solid defensive game if they put their mind to it.
Friday night against the Swift Current Broncos was not one of those occasions.
Defensive zone lapses and breakdowns proved lethal to the Warriors all night long, and by the time things were said and done, Swift Current had skated out of the Moose Jaw Events Centre with a 6-3 victory.
Moose Jaw fell to 13-10-0-1 with the loss and remains a point back of Prince Albert for fourth place in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference and three back of the second-place Saskatoon Blades.
“I thought we were in the right spots and things were going well that way but the will to check just wasn’t there tonight,” said Warriors forward Lynden Lakovic, who drew an assist on Martin Rysavy’s goal midway through the first period. “They have some good players who can put the puck in the net, and being there is one thing but being willing to check is a lot more important and we didn’t do that.”
The opportunities the breakdowns created for the Broncos were at times unmissable, and they made the most of many of those chances. Thing is, the Warriors had their share at the other end of the ice, but had a difficult time beating goaltender Joey Rocha from start to finish.
“It was a pretty back-and-forth game for the most part and we had our chances,” Lakovic said. “There were some shifts where we’d dominate for a couple of minutes and then it was the same thing the other way. Changes in momentum like that are hard on a team, but you just have to stick with it and checking was the biggest part of the night.”
The Warriors opened scoring with a power play goal 9:28 into the game, as Rysavy jammed home the puck at the side of the net moments after putting a similar opportunity just wide.
Brady Birnie got that back for Swift Current with a power play goal of his own, putting in a puck from the side of the during a goalmouth scramble three minutes later.
Josh Filmon and Clarke Caswell then took advantage of some lackadaisical defending in the Warriors’ zone to give the Broncos a two-goal lead, with Filmon scoring at 16:59 and Caswell making it 3-1 only 1:41 later.
Atley Calvert replied for Moose Jaw before the period was out, scoring from the front of the net on a nice feed from the corner by Pavel McKenzie with a minute to play.
As well as Rocha was going, Warriors goaltender Jackson Unger had to be equally as sharp to keep things from getting any worse in the opening frame. He’d face 24 shots in the first period and was on pace to face more than 70 midway through the second when the Warriors finally started to buckle down in their zone.
Calvert made all those saves count early in the second when he tied the game. It was standard fare for the Moose Jaw Minor Hockey product as he set up in front of the Broncos net on the power play and tipped a point shot by Brayden Yager past Rocha.
The tie only lasted 2:52 as Luke Mistelbacher scored on a redirection at 3:59 of the frame to make it a 4-3 Broncos lead.
Swift Current made it look easy as can be on their fifth goal, as Josh Filmon skated through the Warriors zone untouched and unhassled before sending the puck into the slot for a wide-open Ryan McCleary to restore their two-goal lead at 12:44.
There the score stood through until the final minute of the game, but not for a lack of trying by the Warriors, who pulled Unger with just over four minutes remaining to try and make up the deficit.
That led to chance after chance after chance as time wound down, only for Rocha to make a handful of amazing saves -- including a pad stop on a one-timer by Jagger Firkus in the final two minutes that drew almost as big a groan from the crowd as a goal cheer.
“He played unbelievable, he had almost 50 saves and some big ones at the end there,” Lakovic said. “Myself, I had some good looks and was kind of snakebit, too, but that’s how it goes… We just have to forget about it now and get right back at it, be willing to block shots and check and we should get a different result in Prince Albert.”
In the end, Rocha would stop 41 shots, the same number as Unger at the other end of the ice.
The Warriors are back on the road Saturday night when they travel to Prince Albert to face the Raiders. Next home action is Tuesday night when the Broncos are back in town. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.