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'Structure and skill': Warriors coach O’Leary talks what to expect from London Knights

After two off days at Memorial Cup, Warriors set to return to action Monday night against OHL champions
Jagger Firkus and the Moose Jaw Warriors will be looking to get into the win column at the Memorial Cup against the London Knights on Monday night.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- The Moose Jaw Warriors will be looking to get back on the winning track when they face the London Knights at the Memorial Cup on Monday night, but one thing is for certain.

It most definitely won’t be an easy task.

The Knights rode a 31-save performance from Michael Simpson and went on to a 4-0 victory over the Drummondville Voltigeurs on Saturday at the Canadian major junior hockey championship in Saginaw, Mich., showing just what they were capable of in the process.

The good thing is none of that was a surprise to Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. Thanks to rigorous video preparation prior to the tournament, the Warriors had a pretty good idea of what London will look like, and that’s pretty much what they saw int he Memorial Cup opener for the Ontario Hockey League champions.

“It’s structure and skill,” O’Leary said when asked at a CHL press conference what London brings to the table. “They’re disciplined in their structure, they make it hard to go 200 feet on them with the puck and you have to manage pucks against them because they’re always in good spots. If you don’t they can make you pay in a hurry, we saw that against Drummondville, and they certainly have a goaltender who is capable of making saves when he needs to as well.”

That goaltender would be Simpson, who as one might expect has been outstanding all season. He posted a 34-10-1-1 record with a 2.61 goals against average and .905 save percentage during the regular season before winning 15 of 17 games in the playoffs with a 2.59 goals against average and .908 save percentage.

That all led London to a 50-14-1-3 record in the regular season and a sensational playoff run that saw them sweep Oshawa in the OHL Final.

Offensively, London is led by OHL most valuable player and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Easton Cowan, who had 34 goals and 96 points in 54 games in the regular season and  further 10 goals and 34 points in 18 playoff games. 

Philadelphia Flyers prospect Denver Barkey topped London in scoring with 35 goals and 102 points in 64 games, while fellow Flyers prospect and Team Canada World Junior member Oliver Bonk is their top defender, having put up 24 goals and 67 points in 60 games.

That all makes for a formidable opponent for the Warriors, who will be looking for a better start and their first-ever Memorial Cup win on Monday night.

“It was as advertised in that it was performance on demand,” O’Leary said of their opener against Saginaw. “We didn’t perform our best off the start, but I felt our game came along as we got going. To me, it’s just doing the simple, boring things over and over and over and I think it’ll be a big test of that against London (Monday) because they do those things very well.”

With back-to-back days off, the Warriors were able to enjoy some of the action around Saginaw and the tournament in general on Saturday before getting back on the ice Sunday.

“Yesterday it was about taking in the sights and sounds around the city and hanging out with family,” O’Leary said. “I think that’s important for these guys, they’re going to look back on this and remember not only the time on the ice but the time off the ice with family and their teammates.

“So that was yesterday, but today we have a great practice, there was lots of energy, we’re feeling fresh and can’t wait to go (Monday).”

The Warriors close out the Memorial Cup round robin on Tuesday against Drummondville, with a tiebreaker being played Thursday if necessary, followed by the second- and third-place teams playing off in the semifinal Friday and the winner there facing the first-place team for the Memorial Cup on Sunday.

Puck drop for all games is 5:30 p.m, and be sure to keep an eye on for up-to-date scores.

-- with files from Marc Smith / Moose Jaw Warriors

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