Embracing the challenge

Matthew Gourlie
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Warriors start six-game road trip Friday against Dumba and Portland

Moose Jaw Warriors

There aren’t many people outside of the Moose Jaw Warriors locker room who believe they can get back into the playoff chase.

They won’t be able to claw their back into a playoff spot during their six-game west coast road trip, but they could kill off whatever hopes they do have with a bad trip.

“There’s no question that this is a huge trip for us. When you go on the road, you always want to be .500 or better,” said Warriors head coach Mike Stothers. “Knowing the results of some of our opponents that have gone through there, it’s been tough. We figure if we can grab some points, those are the ones we’re looking for.”

In order to take points out of buildings that their division foes couldn’t, they will have to beat some of the league’s top teams. The Warriors open with a really daunting test Friday when they face the Portland Winterhawks (28-12-2-3).

The Winterhawks are ranked seventh in the CHL rankings. That was before they added one of the best junior players in the world to their ranks — defenceman Mathew Dumba is expected to make his debut for his new team tonight. Dumba played 13 games with the Minnesota Wild in the NHL and it was during that time his rights were traded from Red Deer to the Hawks. Dumba got to know new Portland teammates Taylor Leier, Nic Petan and Derrick Pouliot when they played together for Canada at the world juniors.

“I’m excited and anxious to see them,” said Stothers. “There’s a lot of hype around them and it’s a good experience for everyone. We don’t look at it as impossible, but we’re going to have to have everyone playing their A game.

“I think the guys are genuinely excited about playing teams that are ranked in the country or are favoured to be in the Memorial Cup — or even win the Memorial Cup.”

The Warriors certainly won’t be favoured against any of their opponents on the trip. None of their six opponents have a losing record and only one East Division team had a winning record on their trip. The Regina Pats were 3-2 against the U.S. Division, while Brandon, Swift Current and Saskatoon were a combined 1-14-0-0.

“A lot of the teams in our division haven’t done overly well out there,” said Warriors left winger Tanner Eberle. “The rest of our season is going to be tough, so there’s no excuses on this road trip. We’re going out there and we’re going to try to get at least a point every night. We know that’s what we need to do if we’re going to climb the standings and make the playoffs. We know it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be a battle, but I think we’re ready for it.”

After playing Portland, the Warriors will face Everett Saturday. After two days off, they play Seattle and Tri-City on back-to-back nights, have a day off and then face Spokane and Kootenay as they head home.

Though they play four games in five nights, Stothers feels the actual schedule isn’t that taxing. Playing tough teams in loud arenas is a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun.

“It’s been two years, but I couldn’t believe the atmosphere,” said Stothers. “It has to be fun to play in because it’s fun just to stand on the bench and  watch. The fans are loud, they’re into it. It’s an incredible environment.”

After coming back from the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, rookie goalie Zach Sawchenko is used to high pressure situations and will see another in Portland where he is expected to get the nod in goal Friday.

Organizations: Minnesota Wild, NHL

Geographic location: Portland, Red Deer, Canada U.S. Swift Current Saskatoon Seattle Tri-City

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