The Christmas break came to an abrupt end for the Moose Jaw Warriors Wednesday.
The players made their way back to Moose Jaw on Boxing Day and quickly returned to the ice for a vigorous two-hour practice. Tonight they’re back in the thick of the playoff chase as they travel to face the Regina Pats.
That kicks off a three-games-in-three-nights run that sees them travel to Brandon Friday before hosting the Pats Saturday.
“It’s something different. I’ve never had this before. Usually we play one game at home and then we head off for the B.C. or U.S. road trip,” said Warriors veteran Jordan Wyton. “It’s different, but it should be a good test for us.
“It’s always great to play against the Pats. We haven’t seen them much this year, so it will be nice to get out there against our arch-rival.”
The Warriors are 12-17-3-4 on the WHL season and sit in ninth place — one point out of a playoff spot. Brandon and Regina are one point behind the Warriors in the standings.
Every game the Warriors play in the second half is against an Eastern Conference rival.
“We are in a dog fight, standings-wise, with a lot of teams. We can control our own destiny,” said Warriors head coach Mike Stothers. “We need to get our compete to where it needs to be. Our focus, as always, is that we expect to win. That should be our theme and that should be our motto: we expect to win. We don’t settle for anything else.”
The Warriors had lost three straight games heading into the break. The veterans are confident that the young Warriors are a playoff team, but know they will have to prove that every night.
“We have to be consistent every game. That was our downfall in the first half,” said Wyton. “We played with some of the best teams in the league and beat them and then we struggled with some of the lower class teams in the league. Consistency is going to be a big key in the second half of the year.”
Wyton was a full participant at practice for the first time since he suffered an upper body injury that caused him to miss 14 straight games. The 19-year-old wasn’t sure if he would get the green light to play tonight — he will be evaluated further before the game — but is close to a return.
There were plenty of new faces at Wednesday’s practice as well. With the school break, the Warriors have called-up goalie Zach Sawchenko along with forwards Jayden Halbgewachs, Darcy DeRoose and Ethan Williams, plus defenceman Royce Rossignol.
The Warriors are missing defenceman Morgan Rielly who is at the world juniors, while 16-year-old forwards Josh Uhrich, Miles Warkentine and Brayden Point are all at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“It opens up some opportunity,” said Stothers of the absences. “I don’t know quite how it’s going to pan out for all of these guys. We would like to be able to get them all in a game, but that’s to be determined as we go.
“It’s a great experience for them and they’re excited as heck to be here. That’s what you want.”
The quintet are all expected to return to their club teams early in the new year when their seasons pick back up.