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So how does a team prepare for the Memorial Cup? Warriors' coach O’Leary explains

With far-flung, unfamiliar teams, plenty of video and other resources come into play with a week to get ready
If everything goes according to plan, the Moose Jaw Warriors will be doing this once again in a couple weeks time.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- Less than a week from now, the Moose Jaw Warriors will be taking the ice in Saginaw and playing for the Memorial Cup.

And after going through a gruelling run to the Western Hockey League Championship over the last month, it’ll be time for a whole new set of problems to crop up -- only this time, the problems involve the best players, best coaches and best teams in the country.

Solving those quandaries began in earnest Saturday afternoon at the Moose Jaw Events Centre, as the Warriors returned to the ice after a couple of days of celebration with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

But that’s not to say the Warriors haven’t been keeping an eye on things elsewhere in recent times, and it’s all with the goal of helping the team perform their best when the biggest games of the season begin.

“Right now as coaches, we’re in the middle of watching other teams and calling other coaches who’ve been through this tournament in the recent past,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “It’s good just to learn from them, what worked for them, what didn’t work for them and what they’d do differently if they could do it over again. Then it’s just practice as usual and doing what we do well.”

With such high-calibre opposition on the horizon, the Warriors haven’t just suddenly jumped into the pool out of nowhere. No, preparations have been going on for a while, if only to get a boost on things now that the Memorial Cup field has been decided.

“To be honest, we’ve been watching quite a bit over the last two rounds, watching the other leagues just to get a feel for them,” O’Leary explained. “ With how much video there is out there now, it’s pretty easy to get all that stuff down.”

Even with that, it’s not as much the Warriors worrying about each team’s specifics, but more about how they deal with things themselves.

“Since every game is a playoff round in itself, the most important thing is worrying about us and making sure that we’re bringing our very best.,” O’Leary said. “There’s quite a bit of work to it, but this is what you dream about. Any of the baggage that comes with it, we’ll happily take it, because the ultimate prize is really worth it.”

One thing that’s for certain is the Warriors are confident they can get the job done -- they’ve made a habit of defeating extremely good teams over the last month, and they see no reason for that to change any time soon.

“I think our group was built for this if you look at it over the course of the season, and even over the last three years, we play our best hockey against the teams that are the best,” O’Leary said. “You saw it in the playoffs, good teams bring out our best, and that’s the way we prepare. We know we’re going to be playing the very best in the country, we’re one of them as well, but we just have to make sure to play like we can.”

The first post-WHL Championship ice session was a chance to get going physically in that direction, 

“Today was a work day, and it was mainly about work habits, sprinting and not so much system stuff, just the habits that go into winning games,” O’Leary said. “It was a chance to get our legs back underneath us, and we’re not reinventing the wheel here, we’ll be refining some things but for the most part it’s just about getting ready to go.”

The Warriors are back on the ice at the MJEC on Monday and Tuesday before flying to Saginaw on Wednesday and practicing on Thursday before their tournament opener on Friday.

If everything goes according to plan, the storybook season the Warriors have already written will have the best final chapter imaginable -- while snapping a long drought for the Western Hockey League in the process.

“It’s not lost on us that it hasn’t been done in 10 years, 2014 was the last time, and that’s a great challenge as well,” O’Leary said. “We want to bring it home for the Western league, that means something and we’re excited for the opportunity.”

The Warriors open the Memorial Cup against host Saginaw on Friday, May 24 before getting two days off to prepare for the OHL champion London Knights on Monday, May 27. The QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs are up next on Tuesday, May 28, followed by the semifinal on Friday, May 31 and championship final on Sunday, June 2.

Puck drop for each of the Warriors’ games is 5:30 p.m. on TSN.

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