The Moose Jaw Warriors looked like they were on their way to a smooth as possible win over the Swift Current Broncos on Friday night, but as tends to be the case when you’re playing a team on a bit of a roll, things can get very interesting very quickly.
For the Warriors, that translated into a three-goal third-period surge by the Broncos to make things interesting at the Moose Jaw Events Centre before the home team held on for a 5-4 win on Hockey Fights Cancer night.
The contest was the first for Warriors forward Ryder Korczak this season after being returned to the team by the New York Rangers, and he looked every part like an NHL-signed player, creating tons of opportunities throughout the game and finishing with an assist on Jagger Firkus’ second goal of the contest early in the third.
“It felt good, there was a little bit of rust having not skated in three days other than practice, so it was a short turnaround,” said Korczak, who was playing his first game after driving 32 hours from Hartford. “But I thought it was good for the first two periods and the third period was a little bit sloppy, but we got the win and that’s the most important thing.”
The Warriors held control of the game early and would be the first to get on the board. Firkus did the honours, finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing play in the Swift Current zone with Denton Mateychuk and Max Wanner by beating Bronco starter Gage Alexander with a shot low glove side from the slot 5:27 in.
Swift Current didn’t waste any time tying the game, as Brady Birnie finished off a scramble in front of the Warriors' net by putting home a loose puck at the side of the crease just over two minutes later.
Wanner picked up his second point of the period with 7:41 remaining in the first, putting home a shot from the point on the power play for his fifth goal of the season.
Atley Calvert then extended the lead to 3-1 at the 5:19 mark of the second, breaking into the Swift Current zone and beating his defender to the outside before putting a shot from the top of the crease top corner.
It was Robert Baco’s turn to score a nifty one with just over three minutes left in the period. Matthew Gallant found Baco with a backhand pass off the boards, and the Slovakian forward would cruise untouched into the slot and lift a perfect backhand top corner blocker side for the 4-1 Warriors lead.
Korczak picked up his first point of the season on the Warriors’ fifth goal a minute into the third period. The overage forward forced a turnover in the Broncos slot and fed a pass over to Eric Alarie, who had his shot stopped but saw the rebound go straight to Firkus. A quick shot past a diving Alexander, and the Warriors had their four-goal lead.
From that point on, the game swung dramatically in Swift Current’s favour, and they started to see the results on the scoreboard soon after.
A minute after Firkus’ second goal, the Broncos’ Mathew Ward scored on the power play, with his long-distance shot finding its way high past Jackson Unger.
Swift Current made a game of it with 5:32 to play, taking advantage of another power play to set up Sam McGinley with a shot from the point that found its way through traffic.
The Broncos pulled Alexander with two minutes to play, and the Warriors had a couple of chances to score the empty-netter to put things away, but it would be Swift Current who came through with a late goal to make things interesting down the stretch. Ward put home a shot from the side of the net to finish off a scramble with 47 seconds remaining and make it a one-goal game.
That would mark the end of scoring on the night, though, and the Warriors had their 5-4 win.
Korczak would have liked to have put up a slew of points in his first WHL outing of the season, but a single assist is just fine if it ended up part of two points in the standings.
"I’m honestly not too worried about my points, it’s all about the team winning,” he said matter-of-factly. “If we play like we did in the first two periods, we’ll be fine most nights. Other than that we’ll clean up the third period and it’ll be good.”
Unger and Alexander each finished with 30 saves on the night.
The Warriors are now on the road for eight straight games over the next two weeks, including their first games in the B.C. Division since the 2018-19 season.
“It’ll be nice to have that team bonding on the B.C. road trip. I actually haven’t been there in my career, so it’s going to be pretty cool to see some of those places, there are some cool spots out there,” Korczak said. “Then it’ll be good to know some of the new guys and it’ll be a good trip.”
Moose Jaw is now 12-8-0-0 and sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, six points back of Saskatoon and two points up on Calgary. The Broncos lost for only the third time in their last 10 outings and are now 9-10-0-0 on the season.
The Warriors are back in action Saturday night in Swift Current, with next home action Friday, Dec. 9 when they host the Calgary Hitmen.