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Warriors ready to go in Memorial Cup opener against Saginaw on Friday night

Moose Jaw captain Mateychuk talks about preparation and what team expects when four-team national championship tournament begins

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- The Memorial Cup is now less than a day away for the Moose Jaw Warriors.

And you better believe the excitement is starting to build for the team and their fans as the quest for the first national major junior hockey championship in team history is about to begin.

It became that much more real on Thursday when the Warriors took the ice for the first time at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw, Mich., with their first practice at the 7,600-seat arena giving the team their first taste of Memorial Cup action.

“We’re very excited, it’s been a bit of time leading up to it and we can’t wait,” Warriors captain Denton Mateychuk told Scott Vankoughnett of during a media availability. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, especially playing the host team in the first game, it’s going to be a loud crowd and we’re happy and excited for it.”

The Warriors open the Memorial Cup against the host Saginaw Spirit on Friday, with puck drop at 5:30 p.m. and the game broadcast on TSN.

Because of their sweep of the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL Final -- leading to the championship win last Wednesday night at the Moose Jaw Events Centre -- the Warriors have had plenty of time off to rest and recuperate.

That’s always valuable at this time of year, when the countless bumps and bruises from a full season of action begin to take their toll.

“It’s good to have some recovery,” Mateychuk said of the break. “We didn’t get much rest after the Saskatoon series that we had and had to play Portland pretty quick, and it takes a toll on your body. So it’s nice to have some time to recover and fine-tune some things and that’s what we did.”

As for the tournament itself, the round robin is technically not much different than a bog-standard three-games-in-five-nights road trip to the Western Conference. Sure, the games are all in the same arena, but the unfamiliar teams and unfamiliar players will be something that Mateychuk doesn’t expect will present too much difficulty from a getting-used-to-things standpoint. 

“It’s going to be different, you just have to adapt,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s still hockey, you know what you’re doing and you just have to go out there and play.”

The Warriors did have other business to attend to on Thursday, including a parade of the teams in downtown Saginaw. Here’s what that looked like:

One thing that’s for certain is the Warriors will have a ton of fan support back home. Almost every establishment in the city will have the game on TV and the Moose Jaw Events Centre has got in on the action by hosting a viewing party in the Moose Jaw Curling Centre.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Mateychuk said when asked about the community support. “It’s a pleasure to play for the team and an honour and to bring them the first championship has been awesome. The city has been amazing, we’ve enjoyed playing for them all these years and to bring that home for them is awesome.”

The Warriors will have Saturday and Sunday off before facing the OHL champion London Knights on Monday and QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs on Tuesday. Puck drop for all Moose Jaw games is 5:30 p.m.

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