Two seasons ago, it was the Warriors among the leaders in the Eastern Conference in a season where they’d eventually finish with the best regular-season record in the WHL. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, were trudging along to a .500 finish and a playoff spot solely due to their weak division.
This time around, it’s Lethbridge holding down second place in the Conference, and the Warriors toiling near last place. And it turned out to be a case, once again, where the standings fit the final result, as the Hurricanes would go on to a 7-1 victory.
The Warriors fell to 11-28-2-0 and sit two points ahead of last-place Swift Current. Lethbridge improved to 27-11-2-5 and sit in second place in the Conference, 10 points back of the first-place Oil Kings.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts for the Tribe on Wednesday, either – the Warriors took a pair of penalties in the game’s opening minutes, resulting in two of the top-15 scorers in the league working their magic. Dylan Cozens gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead only 1:40 into the contest with his 22nd of the season and Oliver Okuliar followed with his 25th less than a minute later.
And just like that, the Warriors were down 2-0.
“We felt good coming into the game, but if you give a team like that power play opportunities right off the hop it’s never a good thing,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “You’d like to have your goalie face a couple of shots before he’s put in that situation because they have guys who can make plays and put the puck in the back of the net. That’s what happened and the next thing you know you’re chasing the game.”
Okuliar would add his second of the game before the period was out to put Lethbridge ahead 3-0 through the first.
Cade Hayes got the Warriors on the board with 6:41 to play in the second, but Cozens and Hall would score 26 seconds apart in the period’s final minute to put Lethbridge ahead 5-1 through two.
Cozens completed his hat trick 8:13 into the third before Ty Nash closed out scoring in the contest with 11:37 gone.
The difficulties the Warriors have gone through as of late – losers of the last seven and one win in their last 10 – come despite the team showing signs that with just a bit more compete, things could be different.
“We’re in spots to defend in front of our net and it’s just a matter of being a little bit harder on pucks,” O’Leary said. “We can talk about systems all we want, but it’s getting closer to your stick and bending your knees and doing the job.
“At the end of the day it has to sink in and you have to get upset that we’re taking it in the teeth here every night. It’s nothing to do with skill, I believe we have the guys who can do that, but it’s a decision we have to make as a team.”
Brock Gould got the start in goal for the Warriors and was once again smothered in shots, facing 21 in the first period alone and 52 total on the night.
Moose Jaw Minor Hockey product and former Notre Dame AAA Hounds goaltender Bryan Thomson got the start for Lethbridge and made 23 saves to earn the win.
The Warriors are back in action three games in three nights this weekend, as they travel to Swift Current to take on the Broncos on Friday, host the Broncos at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Place on Saturday and travel to Winnipeg to face the East Division leading Ice.