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Moose Jaw Warriors prepare for first round battle against Wheat Kings

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The Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs are on the horizon and four out of five Saskatchewan teams made the cut this year. That includes the Moose Jaw Warriors who will face-off against the Brandon Wheat Kings in the first round.

“Obviously we understand playoffs is a different type of hockey. So we’re going to have to ramp it up a little bit more,” forward Jagger Firkus told CTV News. “Especially against a team like Brandon. They’re a team that like to work hard and play hard games.”

The Warriors finished second in the East Division with a 44-21-0-3 record, right behind them in third in the division were the Wheat Kings with their record of 33-28-6-1.

The two teams faced each other eight times during the regular season and split season series with four wins a piece.

“We have a pretty good book on them and they have a pretty good book on us,” explained head coach Mark O’Leary. “[We’ve faced them] ten times over the course of the year, including exhibition. Everything with them is taking away their transition. They’re very good up the rush, can’t turn pucks over in the bad areas. We don’t want to get into a track meet because we know they’re good at that kind of hockey.”

The Warriors have had back-to-back seasons of second round exits in the playoffs and are hoping to re-write the narrative this year with an even stronger team.

“We’ve taken some steps the last couple of years with some playoff experience but I think now we’re in a better position to compete,” O’Leary said.

“There’s a lot that excites me about our team,” Firkus added. “I think the guys we grabbed at the deadline make our team a lot better. The depth throughout the lineup, I think that’s probably the best part about our team, the depth, how we can roll all three line and compete with every other team.”

Warriors practicing in Moose Jaw on March 26, 2024. (Brit Dort/CTV News)

A depth piece they added at the trade deadline was centre Matthew Savoie.

The Buffalo Sabres prospect has plenty of experience in the playoffs. He was a part of last year’s Winnipeg Ice squad that went all the way to the final. The Ice was also the team that eliminated the Warriors the past two seasons.

“The experience I got last year in the playoffs, going to the finals, and you know ending up losing, and taking that experience for what it was. Just learning from it and being even hungrier this year with a different group, I think it’s pretty cool and pretty special. Last year the group we had in Winnipeg, I think it was similar,” Savoie explained.

O’Leary said the Warriors kept a close eye on Savoie’s performance – especially around playoffs.

“We’ve watched [him] from the other side for a couple of years now and we certainly respect everything that he’s done and it’s a big part of the reason we brought him over here,” he said.

Another powerhouse on the team is Jagger Firkus, who locked down the regular season points contest after recording 61 goals and 65 assists for 126 points in 63 games this year.

“It was important to me. It was a goal of mine at the start of the year. Now that I got it, I’m super happy and ready to get going in the playoffs,” he shared about the milestone. “It gives me a little extra boost obviously you want to be the best play on the ice at all times and having that confidence behind you means a lot.”

Game one between the Warriors and Wheat Kings is slated to begin at 7:00 pm, March 29, at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.

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