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Fast start leads to Warriors win over Brandon in Game 1 of WHL Playoffs

Moose Jaw takes 3-0 lead out of first period, hold off late-game charge by Wheat Kings to take 7-4 victory in Eastern Conference quarter-final opener

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- It wasn’t perfect and things might have become a little closer than the Moose Jaw Warriors would have liked in Game 1 of their Western Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final with the Brandon Wheat Kings, but they’ll take the win just the same.

The Warriors roared out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and held off a late charge by Brandon in the final frame before going on to a 7-4 victory in front of 3,722 fans at the Moose Jaw Events Centre on Friday night.

Martin Rysavy led Moose Jaw with two goals and an assist, while Brayden Schuurman also scored a pair as the Warriors took the lead in the best-of-seven series.

“I thought the start was really strong, in the first half of the game we were the better team,” Rysavy said. “After that we started to loosen up a little bit and they generated a few chances in the third, with the score being two, three goals difference the entire time. I think if we play 60 minutes, play the same system, we’ll be able to roll… but we have the win and that’s the most important thing.”

The Warriors didn’t take long to get on the board, and it was the product of some good old-fashioned hard work. Rysavy got off an initial shot in close and stuck with it, eventually burying his own rebound for the 1-0 lead 3:05 into the game.

Only 1:37 later it was 2-0, thanks to the kind of physical play that wins all sorts of games in the post-season. Rilen Kovacevic laid a huge hit on a Brandon defender, picked up the loose puck, got off a backhand pass to Brayden Schuurman, and his quick two-on-one led to Moose Jaw’s second marker at 4:42.

The Warriors just kept coming, this time when a Rysavy-forced neutral zone turnover led to Jagger Firkus and Brayden Yager going in on a two-on-one, and Firkus’ shot would beat Carson Bjarnson glove side.

Just like that, 3-0 Moose Jaw only 6:15 into the proceedings.

“I think there’s lots we can clean up in the game for sure, but I loved our start,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “It’s nice to be able to get the win and learn some things as well, so we know we can be better over 60 minutes, but the start was the key tonight for sure.”

Things began to even out from there through the rest of the first period, and it was early in the second that Brandon got one back.
Just as a Warriors power play ended, Roger McQueen got off a perfect shot top corner glove side from the right face-off circle to make it a two-goal game.
Barely a minute later, the Warriors once again had a three-goal lead, thanks to a shot by Owen Berge from right face-off dot handcuffing Bjarnson glove side and finding the back of the net.

Firkus then got back into the action in style, picking up the puck in his own end and going in on a one-on-two before sending a backhand pass to a trailing Rysavy in the slot, and his nifty little toe-drag led to the Warriors’ fifth goal at the 6:10 mark.

That chased Bjarnson, who allowed five goals on 16 shots in 26:10 of work,

The Warriors had a handful of chances as the period progressed -- including a two-on-none and two-on-one by Firkus and Matthew Savoie as the period progressed -- but it would be Brandon who got on the board next. 

Brett Hyland took a shot from the point that went off Jayden Wiens in front of the net with a minute remaining in the second period, making it a 5-2 game heading into the third.

Only 2:25 into the final period, it was a two-goal game. Caleb Hadland got off a shot that beat Jackson Unger five-hole, and just like that the Wheat Kings were in striking distance.

Savoie gave the Warriors a bit more breathing room with 6:26 gone in the third. The Buffalo Sabres prospect picked off a pass in the Warriors zone, went in all alone on Ethan Eskit and slipped a shot home five-hole for the 6-3 lead.

The Wheat Kings just refused to go away, though, and once again got back within two. A backhand by Wiens at the side of the net somehow found the back of the net at 13:36, making for a tense finish.

“We’re a good team, but we have to play the right way,” Rysavy said. “We have to manage the time in the game, and if we’re up by three goals, we don’t have to force ourselves on offence, it doesn’t have to be a point night… in the playoffs it’s more about a team effort, it’s not going to be one or two players. But in the end we did a good job, we won, that’s what matters.”

Brandon pulled Eskit for the extra attacker with 3:17 to play, but Schuurman would score his second of the game to finish things off with 2:25 remaining.

Unger made a handful of big stops in the third to hold the lead and finished with 33 saves, while Eskit stopped 21 in his 33:12 of work.

Lucas Brenton had two assists on the night, Brett Hyland had four helpers for Brandon.

The two teams are right back at it on Saturday night for Game 2, with puck drop at 7 p.m. at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.

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