A 4-0 deficit to the top team in the B.C. Division, an equally disparate number on the shot clock and just about everything failing to go their way.
Then the second half of the game happened.
Moose Jaw Warriors 5, Kamloops Blazers 4 in overtime.
Brayden Tracey scored the game tying goal with 6:02 to play in regulation and then capped off the stunning comeback with the game winner 19-seconds into extra time as the Tribe staged one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent team history.
The key to it all? Something head coach Tim Hunter has been talking about for quite some time.
“We started competing, that was the main thing,” Tracey said matter-of-factly. “We just showed that if we compete we can be a good team, Kamloops has a good team over there and we showed we can play with them and it went really well.”
The win snapped the aforementioned nine-game losing skid that had seen the Tribe show improvement through recent contests but an inability to get over the top. It would have been easy to simply take the loss to a team that’s far superior in the standings once they were trailing badly, but the Tribe decided not to go so easily.
“It means a lot to our group that we didn’t give up,” Tracey said. “We were down 4-0 in the second period there and it started with our third and fourth lines generating some offence and that gave us some push and we went out and scored a couple. Then tying the game late, going into overtime that gave us some confidence. So we’re a happy group tonight and we’ll show it on Friday, too.”
Josh Pillar had scored a pair of goals for Kamloops to go along with single markers from Sean Strange and Ryan Hughes to give the Blazers their four-goal lead with 8:11 gone in the second period.
Garret Wright would get the Warriors on the board only 1:45 later, and that goal would completely swing momentum in the contest.
Warriors captain Owen Hardy would score twice in 31 seconds, with his first goal coming 1:49 after Wright’s marker. Hardy would also play a large role in the overtime winner, as he laid a monster hit along the boards with just over a minute remaining in regulation and would draw an unsportsmanlike penalty from Quinn Schmiemann in the process.
That set the stage for Tracey’s OT winner.
“As soon as Libor [Zabransky] passed to me, I knew I was going to be able to blow by those two guys, I saw the D-man cheating to the outside on [Ryder] Korczak there so I knew I could beat him on the inside, it was just a matter of that forward pinching me off,” Tracey said in describing the goal. “When I got through I saw the whole half of the net so I obviously shot it and it couldn’t have turned out better.”
For Hunter, it was a sign that things are moving in the right direction as his exceptionally young team continues to learn what it takes to play in the WHL.
“There’s a lot of care and there’s been a lot of learning through this,” he said. “It hasn’t been an upsetting thing, it’s something where we’re going to struggle at time when we’re playing some good teams and we’re going to get beat. But it’s how we react to being beat, those are the key elements when you struggle.”
And as a former player with experience at the highest levels of the game, Hunter is no stranger to seeing teams turn things around in impressive fashion.
“I’ve been through losing streaks before, we lost 11 in a row in 1986 with the Calgary Flames and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals,” Hunter said. “I’m not saying we’re going to the finals, but good teams go through things like this. It’s good we’re going through them now, this team is going to get better, this group of players is going to get better and they’re going be better after Christmas and we’re going to be better down the stretch.
“Those are the things that I look at that are the lights at the end of the tunnel for me as a coach.”
Zabransky and Cole Jordan each added two assists in the contest, as did Ryder Korczak.
Warriors goaltender Adam Evanoff continued his incredible play since returning to the ice and was one of the major keys to the comeback as he faced 52 shots, turning aside 48, including 18 in the second and 14 in the third as the Tribe mounted their rally. The Warriors fired 27 at Kamloops' Rayce Ramsay.
The Warriors improved to 10-16-1-0 and now sit eight points back of Brandon for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Tribe are back in action Friday when they travel to Brandon before returning home Saturday to face the Kelowna Rockets and close out the pre-Christmas schedule. Game time is 7 p.m. at Mosaic Place.