The Moose Jaw Warriors season ended with a close loss after the Warriors failed to turn a lot of quality chances into goals.
In many ways Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Brandon was an apt end to the season.
“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t win in the shootout, but it happens,” said Warriors captain Kendall McFaull after the final game of his WHL career. “It was another one-goal game. Had we scored those extra goals here or there we could be in a different situation or be in the playoffs, but any team that doesn’t make the playoffs can look back and say ‘what if...’”
The Warriors finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 25-36-4-7 record. They played in 35 one-goal games.
They also tied their franchise record for fewest goals in a season with 182. That matched the mark for futility that came in 2004-05. That same season they also had a dour 14-47-10-1 record — the worst in team history. Of course the next season the Warriors won their only Eastern Conference title and reached the WHL final. The returning Warriors will hope that’s a good omen.
“We were that close in a lot of games and I think it’s a positive step for this team moving into next year,” said McFaull who played in 269 career games with the Warriors. He finished with 16 goals, 55 points and 268 penalty minutes.
McFaull and fellow overagers Justin Kirsch and Jordan Messier knew the end was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier once the time came.
“I didn’t try to think about it too much before hand. I tried to prepare like it was any other game, but as the periods ticked down you start to realize it’s the last one,” said Messier. “With the game being so close, it was pretty passionate, but it definitely hit me leaving the ice for the last time.”
Instead of sleeping on the four-hour bus ride home, the veterans tried to soak up the experience of their final journey on the ‘iron lung.’
“It’s kind of sad to look back on everything and think that it’s all over,” said Kirsch who tallied 40 goals and 93 points in 112 regular season games with the Warriors.
It was a disappointing season for Messier in a lot of ways. The former Tri-City American failed to find his scoring touch after being acquired mid-season. After scoring 26 goals in 58 games as an 18-year-old with the Americans, Messier finished with nine goals and 13 points in 56 games in Moose Jaw.
“I definitely set my goals going in and I didn’t meet what I had planned,” said Messier. “I would have liked to have had more success as a team, but it’s a pretty tight group in there and it was fun getting to know those guys. I took a lot away from it.
“Even with our record people (in Moose Jaw) were pretty big fans. That just goes to show you that you have a pretty good fan base if they’re sticking with you through that.”
McFaull will join the Edmonton Oilers’ farm team in Oklahoma City for the remainder of their season and try to earn a contract from the Oilers for next year.
“It was pretty sad after the game, but at the same time you know there is an opportunity for a new chapter in your life and it’s pretty exciting in that sense,” said McFaull. “You don’t know what’s going to happen for us 20-year-olds. There’s so many opportunities — whether it’s school or to play pro — and it’s a mystery about what’s going to happen.”
Both Kirsch and Messier said they are looking at using their WHL scholarship money and playing collegiate hockey, while Kirsch said he could be open to pursuing a pro career if an opportunity presents itself.
Saturday, Brayden Point finished the year on a tear and scored the Warriors only goal midway through the third period. It was Point’s 24th goal of the year and 57th point. He finished the season leading all North American WHL rookies in points and goals.
Rene Hunter tied the game for the Wheat Kings with 2:42 left in the third period.
Nick Buonassisi scored the only goal in the shootout for the Wheat Kings.
Corbin Boes stopped Moose Jaw’s three shootout attempts to go along with the 40 saves he made during the game.
Justin Paulic made his 26th consecutive start to finish the season and made 26 saves — plus a pair in the shootout — in the loss.
The Warriors are fifth from the bottom in the WHL standings. When the league holds its draft lottery Wednesday the Warriors can climb as high as the third pick in the first round and fall as low as the sixth pick.
The Warriors are expected to have the 13th overall selection in the annual Canadian Hockey League import draft.