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Warriors’ Unger set to take All-Star accolades into Game 1 against Brandon

After stellar campaign and East Division First Team All Star Award, Warriors veteran goaltender aiming for long playoff run - and it all starts tonight in series opener with Wheat Kings
Warriors goaltender Jackson Unger in action against the Brandon Wheat Kings earlier this season.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- When the 2023-24 Western Hockey League regular season started, Moose Jaw Warriors goaltender Jackson Unger had more than his fair share of detractors.

After seeing fair-to-middling results backing up Connor Ungar in the second half of the previous campaign as a 17-year-old, more than a few fans felt he wouldn’t be ready for the big job full-time this season, that the Warriors would need to trade for another frontline netminder.

Now, with the WHL playoffs mere hours away, those detractors have gone completely silent, and for good reason.

Pretty hard to criticize a goaltender who finished with the most wins in the entire Canadian Hockey League, sat atop most statistical categories the majority of the campaign and, to top it all off, was named a WHL First Team All-Star earlier this week.

Now, Unger and the Warriors are set for the second season, and the biggest games of the year ahead. It all starts Friday night at the Moose Jaw Events Centre, with puck drop at 7 p.m.

“It’s really special, it’s cool to see my name up there with the big guys,” Unger said of his league honour, which comes in his third season as a member of the local squad. “Coming in from last year, I knew what I had to improve and what I had to change and I did that, then my season was strong and I really improved. I earned the number one role and kept it and now I want to keep things going into the playoffs.”

Unger was, without question, extremely busy this season.

The 18-year-old appeared in 54 games, faced the third-highest number of shots at 1,754 and posted a 35-15-0-3 record throughout the campaign. Unger’s save percentage was sixth best in the WHL at .908 and his 3.08 goals against average was 13th overall.

That’s a bit of wear and tear, but the Warriors were able to give Unger a few games off in the final few weeks of the regular season, and that’s paid dividends.

“I’m feeling good, I’m in a pretty good spot,” Unger said. “I’ve had some rest over the last two weeks and I’m just trying to keep playing my game and stick to what I do, not change much, keep going into the playoff with the same mentality I’ve had.”

The Warriors and Wheat Kings were practically even in the season series, with Unger feeling the two teams match-up well. While avoiding changing too many things, there have been a few extra preparation steps heading into the upcoming series, with the goal of picking up on some of Brandon’s tendencies.

“You pre-scout and see where their success came from in terms of scoring goals, so I’ll do a bit of that,” he said. “Then it’s getting some work in practice to prepare for their style of play and be as mentally prepared as I can be.”

Unger has had the opportunity to play behind outstanding netminders the last two playoff seasons, with both Carl Tetachuk and Connor Ungar leading the Warriors to the second round before losing to powerhouse Winnipeg Ice teams.

Seeing how those two overage goaltenders handled themselves in the heightened-pressure situation is a role he intends to follow.

“There are obviously more eyes on you, I watched the playoffs last year and the year before that, so I know how it feels to be part of a team in that situation,” he said. “There will be some nerves going into the first game, but come Game 1 I’m sure it’ll be alright.”

One thing that’s for certain is the Warriors have their eyes on a solid postseason run. While not taking anything for granted, there’s little question what the final goal is this season, and Unger plans to do everything he can to make it happen.

“Even last year, it felt like a long season and it was suddenly over,” he said. “But right now the feeling around the room is the season has just started. It doesn’t feel like March, we’re all here for the long run and we’ve prepared for this, we’ve trained for this year. We’re all in and we’re going to do what we can to go all the way.”


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