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Warriors drop lopsided decision to Wheat Kings in home opener

Brandon scores four in first, build 8-1 lead before going on to 9-4 victory in first game at Moose Jaw Events Centre of 2023-24 campaign
Warriors goaltender Josh Banini makes a save in traffic during his first WHL regular-season game.

After the first two games of the regular season, the Moose Jaw Warriors can’t get reinforcements fast enough -- but even three future NHLers likely wouldn’t have saved the day on Saturday night.

The Warriors dropped a 9-4 decision in their Western Hockey League home opener at the Moose Jaw Events Centre, falling to 0-2 on the season after losing 4-0 in their season-opener in Prince Albert on Friday.

The home-opener loss was the worst for the Warriors in the internet era, with the closest comparable defeat a 6-1 loss to Swift Current to open the 2008-09 campaign at the Moose Jaw Civic Centre.

A tough outing to be sure and one that head coach Mark O’Leary wasn’t impressed with, to say the least.

“The right place at the right time was in front of our net and that was the issue the whole night long,” O’Leary said. “We were second to the races for loose pucks in front of our own net, we were second in the compete level to win the puck in front of our own net. It’s disappointing because we talked about that all morning long and how it was going to be important and we didn’t have enough guys who were willing to do the compete to make it work.”

While O’Leary had taken previous losses in the pre-season and in Prince Albert in stride as the team played well positionally and had plenty of positive moments, Saturday was a different story right from warm-ups.

“It was way to casual, and it starts with our leadership,” O’Leary said. “When we warmed up, it was casual, then we started the game casual and we were second best in every department all night long and it’s disappointing. Aside from the (Owen) Berge- (Noah) Degenstein- (Max) Finley line, that was a real bright spot for us, but that was just a real disappointing game to start the season at home.”

Brandon opened scoring 9:36 into the proceedings after carrying play much of the first 10 minutes. Evan Groening was the beneficiary of a pass out front by former Moose Jaw AAA Warrior Anthony Wilson that went off a skate, with Groening’s shot finding its way through traffic and in.

Rylen Roersma made it 2-0 just over a minute later when he picked up a loose puck with speed in the Warrior zone, circled around the net and tucked home a wrap-around.

After a couple of chances on a power play late in the period, the Warriors finally got on the board in the 2023-24 season.

Lynden Lakovic did the honours, picking up a puck in the neutral zone and breaking in on the left wing, getting slightly to the outside on his defender and slipping a shot home five-hole to make it a 2-1 game.

That bit of good news was quickly undone, as Brandon’s Carter Klippenstein scored on a tip in front and Nolan Flamand made it 4-1 Wheat Kings before the period was out, taking a cross-crease feed from Caleb Hadland and putting a shot home from his knees.

It only took 45 seconds into the second for Brandon to make it 5-1, this time with Hadland scoring his second of the game.

That was the end of the night for Jackson Unger, who allowed the five goals on 17 shots. Josh Banini took over in net, making his first regular-season appearance for the Warriors.

Banini kept Brandon off the board for almost 10 minutes, but Dominik Petr made it 6-1 at 10:14, somehow finding the puck among a trio of Warrior defenders and lifting it top-shelf glove side.

Flamand and Roger McQueen scored in the first five minutes of the third period to make it 8-1 before the Warriors got back on the scoreboard.

Finley scored his first WHL regular-season goal at the 4:46 mark of the third, redirecting a shot by Degenstein and having the puck slip five hole on Brandon’s Ethan Eskit.

Roersma increased the lead to 9-2 with 7:10 gone in the period, but Brady Ness picked up the first goal of his WHL career with 2:50 to play in the game, simply putting a shot on net  that found its way through traffic and a screened Eskit.

Matthew Gallant picked up his first of the season with just over a minute to play to close out scoring, with his shot from the point also sneaking through traffic and home.

Banini finished his night allowing four goals on 27 shots in 39:15 of work. Eskit had 23 stops for Brandon.

The Warriors will be hoping for reinforcements soon, with captain Denton Mateychuk (Columbus), forward Jagger Firkus (Seattle) and Brayden Yager (Pittsburgh) all currently in NHL pre-season action.

“To get those three guys back will help us for sure, but at the same time we’re not going to win games like tonight even with those three in the line-up if we’re not willing to compete,” O’Leary said. “I think sometimes it’s easy to say you want to win games and do special things, but if you’re not willing to do the work and the hard things, it’s not even going to be close.

“We certainly want those three guys back whenever they’re ready, but we have some things to clean up with the group that’s here first.”

The Warriors are back in action on Wednesday night when they travel to Regina for their first meeting of the season with the Pats. Next home action is Friday, Sept. 29 when the Wheat Kings make another trip to the Moose Jaw Events Centre. Game time is 7 p.m.

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