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Warriors close out pre-season with loss to Wheat Kings

Brandon scores four on power play in 4-1 win at Moose Jaw Events Centre, regular season begins Friday

The Western Hockey League pre-season is just as much about development as wins and losses, and the Moose Jaw Warriors are taking that to heart.

So even though they dropped a 4-1 decision to the Brandon Wheat Kings at the Moose Jaw Events Centre on Saturday night -- wrapping up their preseason with a 1-3 record in the process -- head coach Mark O’Leary was more interested in the progression he saw from his troops than the final score.

“To be honest, I thought our game was good tonight,” said O’Leary, who presided over a 9-1 loss in Brandon the previous night. “We played will all kinds of energy, we created some o-zone time off of our forecheck and it was just work. We did a good job in front of Jackson limiting second opportunities.

“Saying all that, it was five-on-five, and yes, our penalty kill needs some work. Even there, it was some tough bounces at times and some details that are very fixable. So there was a lot to like about the game tonight and most of all I’m happy with the bounceback.”

The difference between the two losses in O’Leary’s eyes was simply finding their legs. The Warriors had seen improvement in that direction through the game in Brandon and it carried over into Saturday’s contest.

“Even last night in Brandon as the score got out of hand, our legs started to come and we realized what we are as a team,” O’Leary said. “When we forecheck and attack, it starts with our legs and that creates offensive opportunities.”

The Wheat Kings took a 2-0 lead out of the first period thanks to a pair of goals from rookie import Dominik Petr. but Eric Alarie would get one back for Moose Jaw 38 seconds into the second.

Evan Groening made it 3-1 Brandon before the period was out, though, and Rylen Roersma finished things off with the lone goal of the third period.

All five goals on the night were scored on the power play.

Jackson Unger had 37 saves in the Warriors net while Ethan Eskit stopped 28 for Brandon.

Through the four pre-season games, the Warriors were looking to see players adjust to some new wrinkles in their system, and O’Leary felt that has been coming along.

“It’s all about habits and the process through training camp and exhibition,” O’Leary said. “You just want to see that process, you want to look out and see what your team looks like in terms of the work habits and the details and I thought we saw that here tonight. If we get that kind of effort and play with the details we did tonight, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Now, it’s a matter of putting some final refinement in place before the regular season begins on Friday when the Warriors travel to Hockeytown North to face the Prince Albert Raiders.

“It’ll be a reset and a bit of a rest (Sunday), then we’ll have a real good week of practice,” O’Leary said. “I think we have a pretty good idea what our lines look like, who looks good with who, we’re starting to get some chemistry there. Then it’s just fine-tuning our details without the puck.”

The Warriors’ home opener is Saturday night when they host the Brandon Wheat Kings. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.

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