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Warriors coach O’Leary talks tough start and impressive comeback against Saginaw

Warriors aim for overall improved performance in return to ice against London on Monday
Matthew Savoie had a goal and an assist as the Warriors dropped a narrow decision to the Saginaw Spirit to open the Memorial Cup.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- Throughout their run through the Western Hockey League playoffs, the Moose Jaw Warriors made a habit of finding ways to come back in games regardless of the situation.

It led to the WHL champs stealing a handful of contests that looked like sure losses, and was a sign they were never out of a game, no matter the score.

Their opposition at the Memorial Cup have now had a chance to see what that looks like first hand, as the Warriors nearly overcame a 4-0 deficit before dropping a 5-4 decision to the host Saginaw Spirit on Friday night.

Impressive, sure, but head coach Mark O’Leary and everyone else on the team would have much rather not put themselves in that position -- and it’s something they’ll most definitely look to improve upon going forward.

“As much as you want to be pleased with the guys for battling back again and not staying down, our start was just too much,” O’Leary said from Saginaw shortly after the contest. “They were skating well, we were slow, we were stubborn with pucks and slow to check and when you do that you don’t really give yourself a chance.”

Seeing his troops once again find a way to rally at a dark moment almost wasn’t even a surprise at this point, even against a team as talented as Saginaw.

“The past helps when it comes to things like that, if you do it once, you believe you can do it again,” O’Leary said. “We’ve shown all season long that we can continue to keep getting up and that’s what we’ll do again on Monday."

Of course, there was the whole thing with The Moment, capitals intended. The first Memorial Cup game in team history, playing in front of close to 8,000 fans in the DOW Event Centre and once again on national television via TSN all made for a high-pressure situation.

“I don’t know what it was, depending on the individual it was something different,” O’Leary said. “But the last thing we want to do is make excuses, we haven’t made excuses all season long, and we’ll just come out and be better in the next game.”

If there was one shining light beyond the comeback, it was what happened when the Warriors put Jagger FIrkus, Matthew Savoie and Brayden Yager on a line together late in the second period. Not only did it result in three quick goals, they had a slew of chances in the third and came a single offside call from potentially tying the game.

Yager finished with two goals and three points, Savoie a goal and Firkus with an assist in the near comeback.

Now the question is if that line will stick together the rest of the tournament.

“We’ll take that day by day,” O’Leary said. “Sometimes you need to get the blender out a bit to create a bit of urgency and just change things up a bit. So we’ll go over some tape here and watch some things and regroup tomorrow. It’ll be nice to have a couple of days to get our legs back under us and we’ll get back at it on Monday.”

One thing that was most certainly a positive for both teams was getting back on the ice in a game situation. Saginaw had been off for nearly three weeks after losing to London in the Conference final, and the Warriors had been off for over a week since their sweep of Portland in the WHL Final.

Then there’s all the ancillary stuff involved with the Memorial Cup -- a parade, tons of media and everything else involved with a national championship tournament.

“The last couple of days being as busy as they are, it’s to be expected,” O’Leary said. “It’s a big event and it’s a privilege to be here, but at the same time it’s nice to get the hockey going. Now we’ll get back to our regular routine and get ready for London.”

The Warriors face the OHL champion London Knights at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, with the contest broadcast on TSN.

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