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Warriors looking forward to showdown with Blades in Eastern Conference final

Heavily anticipated series set to begin Friday night in Saskatoon, Games 3 and 4 in Moose Jaw Tuesday and Wednesday
The Moose Jaw Warriors celebrate after finishing off the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Swift Current Broncos.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- With the way things had played out for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the regular season, there was always a sense the 40th edition of the team could be on the verge of something special.

Now it’s official.

The 2023-24 Moose Jaw Warriors became the third team in franchise history to advance to the Eastern Conference final on Friday night, taking a 4-2 victory over the Swift Current Broncos at the Moose Jaw Events Centre to finish off the best-of-seven series four-games-to-one.

Now, all eyes are on one of the most anticipated showdowns of the season, as the Warriors meet the Saskatoon Blades for the right to play for the Ed Chynoweth Cup in the WHL Championship Series.

“It’s awesome, I’m really excited for this next round, it’s going to be a fun series,” said Warriors captain Denton Mateychuk, who leads the WHL in playoff scoring heading into the third round. “Being just down the road to Saskatoon, yeah, I think it’s going to be good… these are the kinds of games you grow up getting excited for, playing in the playoffs like this and the big series and we’re just really looking forward to it.”

Moose Jaw last reached the Eastern Conference final in 2012, when the Morgan Rielly, Quinton Howden and Kendall McFaul-led crew lost in five games to Laurent Brossoit, Griffin Reinhart and the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Then there was 2006, when Troy Brouwer, Dustin Boyd and Joey Perricone paced the Warriors to their only WHL Final appearance, where they lost in four to Gilbert Brule and the Vancouver Giants.

This time around, the Warriors have played each series expecting a tough match-up, and that’s essentially what they’ve found. The four-game sweep of Brandon was anything but easy, and the five-game wrap of the Swift Current Broncos was a surprise to almost everyone involved given how tight the games were. 

So it’ll be more of the same when the Warriors and Blades renew hostilities next weekend.

“We’ve worked all season to get to this position and we know the further you go, the harder it gets,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “They’re a heck of a hockey team, they play with a lot of structure and discipline and they have some skilled guys who can make plays as well. We’re looking forward to the challenge and any time we play Saskatoon it’s just good hockey.”

The Warriors have no plans of tearing up a winning playbook heading into the series. Instead, it’ll be a matter of refinement and renewed focus over the coming week, and ideally, the same kind of success they’ve seen much of the way through the postseason.

“We have to play our game and have to be able to play with them in their rink,” Mateychuk said. “They’re very good at home, so we’re going to have to be ready for that, They’re going to have lots of rest, both teams should be well rested, it’s going to be a tough match-up but I think we’re ready for it.”

Warriors forward Jagger Firkus has been a thorn in the Blades side all season, racking up nine goals and 15 points over the six regular season games, and continuing that output could likely end up with positive results for the local squad.

Just don’t expect it to be easy.

“They’re a good team, a structured team that plays with discipline and we understand how they’ve played the last few years here, its the same structure and game plan every year,” Firkus said. “We’re looking forward to it, we have a little rivalry, so there will be some extra jump for sure.”

One thing that’s for certain is if the Warriors do see the same kind of offensive output they’ve seen the whole playoffs -- especially from their top performers -- things could go very well indeed.

“It shows how much the top guys want to lead by example, especially guys like Denton, Yags (Brayden Yager) and on and on,” Firkus said. “They come here with the same mindset every day, do whatever they can and compete like dogs out there and come away with the win, It means a lot to us.”

Games 3 and 4 of the series are on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with tickets going fast. Be sure to check out or the Moose Jaw Events Centre box office for availability.

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