Wednesday night offered the latest example, as Jadon Joseph scored the game-winning goal in overtime as the Warriors took a 4-3 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings, one of the teams projected to be a leader in the Eastern Conference this season.
It wasn’t perfect – the Warriors got off to a rough start in the game and found themselves scrambling in their own zone much of the third period – but it was still their fifth-straight win as the Tribe improved to 5-1-0-0 on the season.
As well and good as that might be, there’s still plenty of room for improvement in head coach Tim Hunter’s eyes, especially during Edmonton’s dominant stretches.
“We weren’t making hard plays, we were making soft plays coming out of our end and weren’t winning enough battles and weren’t pressuring the puck,” said Warriors head coach Tim Hunter. “They’re a good team, they skate well, they pressure pucks and make hard plays and it was ‘let’s do a little bit of what they’re doing’ and get skating and moving… the bottom line is we got two points, it’s a learning experience for our guys to see what a good team looks like and a team that plays together. They’re a well-oiled machine and we’re not there yet but we’ll get there.”
Keenan Taphorn got the Warriors on the board in the first period, but the lead wouldn’t last as Riley Sawchuk would score for Edmonton with four minutes to go in the first and Matthew Robertson followed with a power play marker 3:30 into the second.
Owen Hardy got that one back with a wrap-around goal at 5:25 later, and Matthew Benson would score the first regular-season goal of his career after a brilliant feed from Eric Alarie with 2:25 to play in the period.
“It feels good, Alarie made a pretty nice play there and I was just in the right spot at the right time to put it home,” the 19-year-old defenceman said.
“Games like this go to show how close we are, I love every one of those guys. We go out there with the mindset of playing for each other and anything less is not good enough.”
It looked as if Benson’s goal would hold up as the game-winner, but Kiam Keeler would score with the goaltender pulled with 41 seconds left in the game to send it to overtime.
There, Joseph took a pass from Carson Denomie and slipped a quick shot home 2:49 in to give the Warriors the 4-3 win.
As well as things have gone for the Tribe so far this season – to the point the team received an honourable mention in the Canadian Hockey League Top 10 this week – Hunter sees far too much room for improvement to make any bold predictions of success going forward.
“We’re going to be a good team one day, but we’re not a good team yet,” he said. “We’re seeing some results but we have to keep building our game so after Christmas, when the real bullets are flying and teams are really gunning for a playoff spot, we’ve improved and are able to get some of these guys some reps and ice time and let them learn from experience of playing.
“It’s a tough nut to crack but the guys are getting better every day and they’re learning through all this and that’s the plan.”
Bailey Brkin was once again solid in net with a 33 save performance, including 18 in the third period alone. The Warriors had 28 shots on Edmonton goaltender Todd Scott.
The Warriors are back in action Friday when they host the Vancouver Giants (7 p.m., Mosaic Place).
Overtime… the Tribe had a very interested observer at the game as forward Brayden Tracey made his return to Moose Jaw from the Anaheim Ducks earlier in the day. He remains day-to-day with an upper body injury… Joseph’s three-point performance had him named the WHL’s second star of the night. The first star? None other than Moose Jaw product Reece Newkirk, who had a career-best four-point night in the Portland Winterhawks’ 8-2 win over the Swift Current Broncos.