The Moose Jaw Warriors will be heading into the Western Hockey League season hoping to get off to the kind of fast start that carries into the rest of the campaign.
And the Canadian Hockey League thinks they’re more than capable of doing just that.
The first set of CHL ranking released prior to the start of the Western Hockey League season on Friday night saw the Warriors ranked fifth overall, tops in the Eastern Conference and behind only the Portland Winterhawks in the entire WHL.
Needless to say, there’s plenty of excitement around this year’s edition of the team and what they can accomplish -- and it all begins Friday night in Prince Albert against the Raiders.
“We’re super pumped,” Warriors second-year forward Lynden Lakovic said on www.mjwarriors.ca. “Our group has been waiting for this day, it’s been circled on our calendar.”
The Warriors received some good news earlier in the week when overagers Atley Calvert and Lucas Brenton returned from their respective NHL rookie camps. Calvert had been with the Pittsburgh Penguins alongside teammate Brayden Yager, while Brenton skated in Chicago Blackhawks camp.
“It was good, I got to play all three games and at the end of the day, that’s what I wanted to do, obviously wanted to make main camp, but that didn’t happen,” said Calvert, who had skated in Buffalo’s camp last fall. “I’m excited to be back with the boys and ready to get the season going.”
Brenton made his debut in an NHL camp and was happy for the opportunity.
“It was everything I thought it would be,” Brenton said. “It was kind of surreal, just to be around that environment and around those caliber of players, so it was a great learning experience.”
Both players had a chance to practice this week and get back into the WHL swing of things, with head coach Mark O’Leary expecting the duo and fellow overager Eric Alarie to lead by example now that the games count for real.
“They’re three guys that grew up as Moose Jaw Warriors, they know the importance and the pride that they have for this organization and to have a good year this year, so it starts with them for sure,” O’Leary said.
The Warriors were able to solve their overage situation at this point in the campaign, as the team released 20-year-old Josh Hoekstra earlier this week to get under the three-player limit. Defenceman Max Wanner and forward Martin Rysavy are in NHL camps with Edmonton and Columbus respectively, but neither are expected to return.
The Warriors will start the campaign missing three key contributors in captain and top-flight defenceman Denton Mateychuk (Columbus), forward Jagger Firkus (Seattle) and Yager. With the trio having contributed over 230 points last season and all expected to return, it’ll be a matter of getting off to as solid a start as possible until the reinforcements arrive.
“We know it’s not going to be easy, we’re missing three of our top guys, so we’ve got to prove a lot to some people that we have depth and can win without those guys,” Lakovic said.
“We just need to listen to what (O’Leary) says and then capitalize on our scoring chances. We didn’t score a lot of goals in the preseason, but we created a lot and if we just capitalize on those, we’ll be fine.”
Warriors fans will get their first look at the team on Saturday night when the Moose Jaw hosts the Brandon Wheat Kings in their 2023-24 home opener. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.