On Tuesday, four players found out that sentiment wasn’t just lip service.
The Warriors announced that defenceman Matthew Gallant along with forwards Tate Schofer, Nathan Pilling and Harper Lolacher had all signed Western Hockey League standard player agreements, two days after the club had wrapped up their 2021 training camp.
Making it all the more interesting is how the players initially arrived in Moose Jaw -- of the three, only Lolacher was selected the WHL Prospects Draft, and even he was as late a pick as possible, going in the 11th round of the 2020 Draft
“Any time you can add three listed players and someone you drafted in the 11th round, you’ve had some success identifying players and those are pieces that can help your program be successful in the future,” said Warriors general manager Jason Ripplinger. “Those kids came in determined and showed that they wanted to be here and wanted to make our hockey club. For the last 18 months, they put in the work and you can tell they did.”
Pilling, 17, was listed by the Warriors out of camp in 2019. The 6-foot-4 and 191-pound left winger had two goals in five games with the Calgary Flames of the Alberta Elite Hockey League (18U AAA) last season and 24 goals and 49 points in 37 games with the Calgary Bruins (16U AAA) in 2019-20.
“Being that he’s 6-foot-4 he’s not hard to miss, there’s a lot of things he did right and he worked hard at both ends of the ice,” said Ripplinger.
Gallant, 17, was listed by the Warriors in April 2021. A 5-foot-10, 163-pound rearguard, he played last season with Delta Hockey Academy 18U Prep and was held without a point in four games. Playing with West Vancouver Academy Prep the previous season he had eight assists in 35 games.
“From the first time he stepped on the ice he just took off,” said Ripplinger. “He didn’t care he was a 17-year-old rookie, he just carried the puck up ice and made plays.”
Schofer, 17, was listed by Moose Jaw in November 2020. A 5-foot-9, 158-pound right winger, he suited up for Regina Pat Canadians in the Sask Male U18 AAA Hockey League and had three goals and six points in seven games. The previous season he suited up for Prairie Hockey Academy’s U16 Prep team and put up 14 goals and 28 points in 34 games.
“With Schofer, you can tell he’s going to be an agitator and he’s going to (anger) a lot of people,” Ripplinger said.
Lolacher, 16, will also be playing close to home and suited up for the Tisdale Trojans of the SMAAAHL last season. A 5-foot-10, 150-pound centre, Lolacher had a goal in three games in 2020-21 to go along with seven goals and 16 points in 27 games with Notre Dame U15 Prep in 2019-20.
“He’s a hard-working guy that did a lot of good things,” Ripplinger said. “He has a lot of speed in his game so it’ll be interesting to see how he is as he develops later.”
Seeing the quartet of players end up signing on with the team isn’t much of a surprise for the team brass, especially given why they were listed and drafted in the first place.
“If you know some of the background and history of these players, when you list them or draft them later, you know that there’s character there and they’re going to be determined to make the WHL,” Ripplinger said. “That’s what we saw from all four of these players.”
They’ll all receive long looks through the exhibition season, too, as the Warriors saw six veterans head off to National Hockey League development and training camps this week: defencemen Daemon Hunt (Minnesota Wild) and Cole Jordan (Calgary Flames) along with forwards Ryder Korczak (New York Rangers), Martin Rysavy (Columbus Blue Jackets), Max Wanner (Edmonton Oilers) and forward Eric Alarie (Florida Panthers).
The Warriors will play their first exhibition game tonight when they host the Brandon Wheat Kings. Admission will be by donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association in memory of Ethan Williams.
“I just think at the end of the day, it’s a good game at a good time for us,” Ripplinger said. “It’s a good one for our young guys to get their feet wet, see what the WHL is about. There will be more people in the stands than they’re used to, they’re coming into a big rink and they’ll be nervous but once they get a few shifts in they’ll be okay.”
Game time is 7 p.m. at Mosaic Place.