© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Zach Hodder skates away from Swift Current Broncos captain Colby Cave Saturday night in WHL pre-season action at Mosaic Place.
It was hardly a classic, but for a team that lost 20 one-goal games a year ago, the Moose Jaw Warriors will gladly take it.
The Warriors finished their Western Hockey League pre-season schedule with a 2-1 win over the Swift Current Broncos Saturday. Todd Fiddler scored with 4:09 left in the third period to break the deadlock.
“It was an exhibition game. It wasn’t full of the emotion or the competitiveness that I was kind of hoping for in the last game,” said Warriors head coach Mike Stothers. “I look at it as: we found a way to win a one-goal game. We’re not exactly filling the net yet, but we won the game. We finished the (pre-season) the way we wanted to and we finished on a positive note.”
After losing their rookie game against Swift Current, the Warriors won two of their final four pre-season contests. They will open the WHL regular season at home Friday (7 p.m., Mosaic Place) against the Brandon Wheat Kings.
While defencemen Morgan Rielly and Travis Brown are still off at NHL camps, the Warriors iced their most veteran group of defecemen Friday. Goalie Justin Paulic was called upon to make some pretty big saves, but Stothers was happy with his team’s performance in their own end.
“We were better. We moved the puck well. We showed some good composure at times. I thought we did a pretty good job of protecting the net front,” he said. “Paulic looked more comfortable in net, the defencemen seemed a little more comfortable and confident.
“Though it wasn’t a great, exciting game, there were a lot of positives to take out of it.”
Zach Hodder also made his Warriors debut after being acquired from Medicine Hat for a conditional eighth round draft pick. The 20-year-old looked comfortable and composed.
“You have to be a good player, you have to be a good teammate and a good leader to get on a team in the Western League at 20,” said Hodder.
“I’m pretty excited just to be in the league and especially in Moose Jaw.”
Hodder has played on four teams in his first four WHL seasons, but he feels he has grown a lot on and off the ice and is hoping to put together a strong final season in the league.
“When I was younger I had two surgeries and then I didn’t do myself any favours after that, but I think I’ve matured a lot since I started playing in the Western Hockey League. I understand the work and dedication it takes to be a guy that makes a difference every night,” said Hodder who is hoping he can lead by example.
“Most teams already have vocal leaders, but I see myself more as a guy that pushes by doing the right things. If you set an example of being in the weight room all the time, watching what you eat, not going out, stuff like that. Hopefully younger guys can see that and maybe they’ll go to the gym an extra day per week or something.”
Hodder spent much of the game playing with young Russian Alexei Sleptsov and the mobile defencemen were pretty effective.
“He’s an older guy, he’s an experienced guy and he’s played on some good hockey clubs with some good coaches,” said Stothers. “We told him to keep his game simple and to help us out. He doesn’t have to be a one-man show. I thought he did a very good job for us.”
Warriors defenceman Tyler Bell opened the scoring on an odd-man rush before Swift Current’s Brett Lernout tied the score with a shot that just trickled over the line after Paulic got part of it.
The Warriors killed off a five-on-three power play for 1:05 in the third period. Though Broncos’ captain Colby Cave hit the crossbar late, the Warriors also killed off a penalty to end the game.
“We certainly have gotten a good look at some younger kids who are either going to stay with us or are really close and knocking on the door. From that aspect I was really impressed with the young kids we had and what’s coming down the road for us,” said Stothers.
Paulic made 28 saves for the Warriors, while Landon Bow stopped 27 shots for the Broncos.