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Moose Jaw Warriors win first WHL Championship in franchise history with series sweep over Portland

Moose Jaw, Sask. -

The Moose Jaw Warriors are the 2024 Western Hockey League (WHL) Champions after defeating the Portland Winterhawks in four games.

The Warriors secured their first league title in franchise history with a 4-2 win at home Wednesday night.

“It’s unbelievable. There’s not really words you can describe it with. It’s pure happiness and joy and just so proud of the group,” Warriors forward Jagger Firkus said.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. It’s crazy. Just feeling that thing [the trophy] and lifting it up, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Warriors captain Denton Mateychuk added.

Mateychuk was named the 2024 WHL playoff’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).

“I mean what’s there more to say. He’s unreal and dominates night in and night out. He plays 35 minutes a game, he’s an absolute rock back there,” said forward, Matthew Savoie about his teammate.

It is special for teammates such as Firkus, Mateychuk and Brayden Yager who were all drafted together by the Warriors and have spent their junior career alongside one another.

“A lot of us have been together since we were 15 or 16 years old and to finish the job now four or five years later. It just means the world,” said Firkus.

“It’s unbelievable. I grew up with these guys and our goal was always to do this and we weren’t sure we were going to get there and today we did it,” Mateychuk said.

"It all started in a hub in Regina. We talked about doing something special here and building something special. Had this vision in mind that when these guys were 19 years old we were going to have a hell of a team and here we are,” Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary said.

O’Leary was fresh off a Gatorade shower from his players when he spoke to media following the win.

“I love it, I love every minute of it. This is unbelievable. I just love this group, everything they’re about. Even when I’m mad at them I love them,” he joked. “To have the opportunity to do this at home is just so special.”

The win at home was extra special for 20-year-old Atley Calvert who hails from Moose Jaw.

“I can’t describe it. Growing up I went to all these games. I mean the people of Moose Jaw really showed up and gave us energy and light. So much works has gone into this. Obviously the fans they really helped us. I knew from day one this was going to be a special group and we’re going to be special forever,” Calvert said.

The Warriors opened the scoring as they had all series long with a power play goal from Martin Rysavy just over eight minutes in.

Rysavy’s goal would stand as the only one of the period, the second did not see much action either when it came to scoring. However, both teams were beginning to get heated with one another as tensions flared behind the Warriors net just over halfway through the second. As a result the Warriors would end up on another five on four opportunity.

It was a controversial call against the Warriors later in the period that proved to be costly. Moose Jaw forward, Rilen Kovacevic, was hauled down and no penalty was called but just seconds later the Warriors took a bench minor for too many men.

The call caused an uproar from the bench and crowd and even more so when Portland scored on the power play to tie the game at one.

Just a couple minutes later the Warriors regained the lead when Matthew Savoie scored his tenth of the playoffs to make it 2-1 with four minutes to go in the second.

With 1:26 to go in the second period Portland once again answered back to tie it up with a goal from Marcus Nguyen.

After two periods of play shots were 19-18 in favour of the Winterhawks. As the buzzer went to end forty minutes of play tensions continued to flare between the two teams. The actions forcing a four on four to start the third period.

With a tie game heading into the third the Warriors knew they had to finish the task at hand.

“O’Leary came into the room and he just kind of said, ‘This is it, 20 minutes to [go] to hoist that trophy and be champions’ and I think the guys took that to heart. We came out here and played our hearts out this third period,” said Mateychuk.

Portland hit a post late in the third that could have changed the landscape of the game but just a few moments later Brayden Schuurman once again became the hero for the Warriors as he scored his seventh of the playoffs and the go ahead goal to make it 3-2 with 5:53 to go.

At the 2:27 mark the Warriors got the empty net insurance goal from Martin Rysavy.

The crowd was electric in the building all night and a 4-2 lead with over two minutes to go kept them on their feet all the way through to the celebrations on the ice.

“The fans deserve it. It’s an awesome city and I’m so glad we could bring them home a championship,” Mateychuk said.

“These are the best fans in the league. I’ve never seen a team send you off like they have or welcome you back at one or two in the morning like they have. It’s so fun to come in the rink and play in front of them,” Savoie said.

Savoie was on the Winnipeg Ice team (Wenatchee Wild) that fell short in the WHL final last season before he was traded to the Warriors in January.

“It’s special. It’s a special group in that locker room. The belief never wavered. It was just excitement when I saw the roster coming over here. Lots of good players on this team and I think we came together in a special way,” said Savoie.

The season is not over for the Warriors yet as they will head to Saginaw, Mich. for the 2024 Memorial Cup next week.

“The western league has been a little bit unfortunate or unlucky in the Memorial Cup the last few years so our group is definitely going to try and go win it,” said Savoie.

“We’ll party then we’re right back at it,” exclaimed Mateychuk.

“We’re going after that too,” stated O’Leary very simply when asked about earning the Memorial Cup title.

The Memorial Cup runs from May 24 to June 2. Top Stories

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