The Moose Jaw Warriors weren’t going to be pushed around in their own building.
They weren’t going to be pushovers either.
Andrew Johnson scored a penalty shot goal 2:43 into overtime to give the Warriors a 4-3 win over the Swift Current Broncos in Western Hockey League action Friday at Mosaic Place. The Warriors came back from a 3-0 deficit to win their home opener in front of 4,317 fans. The Warriors will meet the Broncos in Swift Current tonight.
“I saw there was a gap there and I tried to split it. When the ref pointed for a penalty shot my heart almost stopped,” said Johnson who tried to split between Dalton Reum and Dillon Heatherington when he was hauled down.
Johnson beat Broncos rookie goalie Eetu Laurikainen high on the blocker side to end the game.
The Broncos came out to set an early tone. Six-foot-five captain Adam Lowry knocked Brayden Point down off of the opening face-off and the Broncos set out to use their size to their advantage.
“I’m so proud of our guys and the way they battled. They faced some pretty adverse situations for the first game of the season,” said Warriors head coach Mike Stothers. “Being a young club I thought we handled ourselves very well. We never got discouraged. We got down and we battled back.”
The Broncos took a 2-0 lead after a period when Levi Bews banged in a rebound and Colby Cave scored 1:31 later when his short-handed wrister hit the stick of a Warriors defenceman and went over the shoulder of Tribe goalie Justin Paulic.
On the subsequent centre ice face-off, Lowry was pushing the head of five-nine centre Sam Fioretti towards the ice. Warriors defenceman Joel Edmundson intervened and started a fight which earned him an ejection and the Broncos a near-five minute power play.
The WHL has a new rule in place to cut down on staged fights — specifically fights following a face-off during a game. That led to Edmundson being ejected though it could be argued that that Edmundson also engaged in a ‘one-man fight.’
“That wasn’t a staged fight. That was just a teammate coming in to protect his teammate,” said Stothers. “If people are going to try to take liberties with Pointer, that’s part of it. We play hard between the whistles and we don’t get involved in that stuff, but when push comes to shove we stay team strong.”
The Warriors killed off the Edmundson major and a five-on-three power play that followed, but fell behind 3-0 when Justin Spagrud scored off of a fortunate bounce midway through the second.
The Broncos’ aggressive play cost them late in the second period as the Warriors got back in the game after a series of power plays.
Fioretti scored a power play goal to get the Warriors on the board and Lowry picked up a roughing penalty after the goal. When Reece Scarlett cross-checked Fioretti in front of the net, the Warriors went on a five-on-three power play for a minute.
Carter Hansen scored on the two-man advantage to cut the lead to 3-2.
“Getting up three goals it was unfortunate that we ran into some penalty trouble. I took some selfish penalties and guys on our team took some penalties that we could afford to take,” said Lowry.
“Sometimes it’s a fine line. You have to gauge what the referees are going to call and what they’re not going to call and then go from there. Unfortunately we got away from that and tried to take it a little too far. That ended up costing us.”
Justin Kirsch got a fortunate bounce and scored the Warriors their third power play goal of the night to tie the game early in the third.
“It was a big character win for us,” said Warriors captain Kendall McFaull. “It’s something we needed. It shows the young guys that if we stick to our game plan we can battle through adversity.”
The game had a scary moment later in the third when Kirsch took a five minute major for a check from behind on Reece Scarlett. The hit will surely be reviewed by the league and the Broncos defenceman was motionless on the ice for more than 10 minutes. Scarlett gave a thumbs up when he left the ice strapped to a back board.
Paulic earned the win in goal for the Warriors making 23 saves.
Laurikainen stopped 34 shots in his WHL debut for the Broncos.