If their first three games of the regular season are any indication, the Moose Jaw Warriors just might be quick studies indeed.
A week after nearly giving up a four-goal lead in the last five minutes of their home opener against the Regina Pats, the Warriors again carried a 4-0 into the final five minutes of their Western Hockey League contest on road against the Brandon Wheat Kings Friday night.
This time, the Tribe weren't leaving anything to chance, even adding another insurance marker in the final minute as they went on to take a 5-0 victory.
“Those were real good coachable moments that gave us a chance to work on some things and some composure issues.” Warriors head coach Tim Hunter said of the difference. “I think our guys had a good week of practice and we were able to have a good week of coaching and teaching and they responded well tonight. We didn't want to back into a win like we did the other night, so we dug in in the third and we're happy with the result obviously.”
Bailey Brkin went the distance in goal, continuing his stellar play since the start of the season with a 22-save performance to earn the Warriors first shutout since Brodan Salmond blanked the Swift Current Broncos in the final regular season game of the 2018-19 season.
“He's a really steady guy back there, he's calm to watch and he has a calming effect on the guys in front of him, and he's a great mirror at the other end of the ice for Jackson Berry to watch as well,” Hunter said. “So there are lots of dividends with his play for sure.”
Eric Alarie and Kaeden Taphorn scored for the Tribe in the first period before Keenan Taphorn extended their lead to 3-0 in the second. Tate Popple added a shorthanded marker 5:43 into the third and Jadon Joseph closed out scoring with 22 seconds remaining in the game.
Ryder Korczak finished with a pair of helpers, giving him a goal and five assists on the season and pushing him into a three way tie for the Western Hockey League scoring lead. Alarie also added an assist and is now second in rookie scoring with a goal and four points.
A key factor for the Warriors was their success in the face-off circle. The Tribe got off to a rough start there, but after losing 11 of the first 13 would eventually string together 13 straight face-off wins and 20 of 22, with Hunter pointing to Joseph's presence on the team as a key factor in that regard.
“Jadon Joseph is very good in the face-off circle and that's part of the reason we acquired him,” he explained. “We haven't had a real good right face-off guy since Brayden Point, so now we have some versatility with the righties on the right side and Popple and Calder Anderson on the left side, so we're taking advantage of that. Then Jadon is doing a good job of working with the other centres after practice and talking to them during the game, so it's paid off.
“Puck position is an important part of the game off the face-off, everyone is in perfect defensive position so if you can win, it sure helps things.”
The Warriors and Wheat Kings are back in action Saturday night for the second game of the home-and-home series. Game time is 7 p.m. at Mosaic Place.