The Saskatoon Blades looked every bit a team building to compete for the Memorial Cup.
The Moose Jaw Warriors showed signs that they may have some championship character in their future as well.
The young Warriors tried to go toe-to-toe with the Memorial Cup hosts, but came up short in a 3-1 loss Friday. While the loss is another blow to their faint playoff hopes, the performance and the character the Warriors showed was a positive.
“I was happy with the way we played. We played hard. I have no complaints from that end,” said Warriors head coach Mike Stothers. “I was encouraged with the play of our team against a good hockey club. Our young guys — I thought (Colton) McCarthy and (Brandon) Potomak were very good — were very good.
“I think it bodes well for the future. It’s tough because we’re running out of time and running out games here. It would be easy for our guys to think they had no chance against a very powerful Saskatoon team, but that didn’t happen. They played hard. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for from your team.”
It was a battle between the youngest team in the Western Hockey League and the oldest, but it was a battle to the end.
“We know what Saskatoon brings. We know how they play. We battled hard, but I think we need to play the start of the game the way we played the end of the game,” said Warriors centre Brayden Point.
“It was good to see that we didn’t back down.”
Point was one of five Warriors who played Friday who were born in 1996, while the Blades dressed a dozen players who were born in 1993.
Point and Morgan Rielly both picked up coincidental roughing penalties and played with an edge all night.
“Those are guys wanting to make the playoffs,” said Warriors captain Kendall McFaull when asked about the feistiness of their skilled players. “If we had the entire team doing that we would be more successful.”
With the loss, the Warriors record falls to 19-30-3-5. They will travel to face the Prince Albert Raiders tonight.
Early in the second period former Warrior Shayne Gwinner opened the scoring on the power play. Saskatoon’s Matej Stransky doubled the lead on an odd-man rush as he netted his 31st of the season.
Darren Dietz scored on controversial Blades power play 1:44 into the third period to extend their lead to 3-0.
Moose Jaw’s Tanner Eberle broke up the shutout when he scored with 13:13 left in the third period.
The win was the Blades 10th in a row.
“We need points every night right now. We try to play as hard as we can,” said Blades goalie Andrey Makarov who got better as the night went on and made some tremendous saves later in the game. He finished with 37 saves and also had two Warrior shots ring off the post.
“The goal posts are my friends. So I appreciate that,” said Makarov. “I had a lot of shots, which is good. I had to work all of the time.”
Paulic made 36 saves for the Warriors.