Pats and Warriors ready to open 2023 WHL postseason
The Western Hockey League (WHL) playoffs get underway Friday night and the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats will take to the ice in their respective series against the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Saskatoon Blades.
For the Regina Pats, it will be their first trip to the playoffs since they hosted the Memorial Cup in 2018.
It’s also the first time the Pats and Blades have squared off in the postseason since 2006, the Blades won that opening round series in six games.
The last time the Pats defeated the Blades in a playoff series was 1993, winning in five games.
The two provincial rivals have met in the playoffs six times in series' and once in the round robin format back in the 1980's.
“Players that are here now weren’t here when we were last in them [playoffs]. It’s just staff and so forth. But I think it’s something they’ve worked hard to do for the last couple of years,” Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock said.
The Pats will hit the road Friday to take on the Blades in game one, game two will go Sunday afternoon in Saskatoon. The Pats have a 2-4 record against the Blades this season and have been outscored 25-18.
However, Regina has a good idea of what they are facing heading into the playoffs as they have faced Saskatoon three times alone in the month of March.
“It’s been nice to obviously out last few games we had them a lot so you know for us the comfortability and kind of knowing what they’re like. I’m sure it’s the same for them,” Pats’ captain Connor Bedard said.
Bedard only played four of the six matchups this season against the Blades but still registered five goals and four assists. Saskatoon had been boasting recorded attendance in the final few games of the season against the Pats.
“It’s been a lot of fun. Obviously, they can hold a lot of people. For us to go out there with that many people and that atmosphere, it’s been great. It’ll be nice when we get back home to see you know what our fans can bring,” Bedard said.
“I think there’ll be a lot of people that are excited to come watch playoff hockey again. So I’m hoping it’s a real loud atmosphere and they can hopefully help us get one or two here at home,” Pats goalie Drew Sim said.
Before the Pats return home they will have to try and win on the road against the second place team in the East Division.
The Blades finished the regular season with a 48-15-4-1 record, good enough for 101 points and behind only Winnipeg, Kamloops and Seattle in the WHL’s overall standings.
“Kind of being a sixth seed you’re considered an underdog but we don’t think that there’s very many teams we can’t beat,” Sim said. “They’re very disciplined in their structure and have lots of talent up and down the lineup. So we’re going to have to stay disciplined in their structure. We know that they don’t make too many mistakes.”
The Pats are using the underdog mentality as motivation as the team decided their motto for playoffs is, “Against all odds”.
“We had a bunch of ideas but we chose ‘Against all odds’. I think for us you know obviously we’re not the highest seed. So just go out there and prove people wrong and try to win as many games as we can,” Bedard said.
“This is win or go home. So I think kind of think that motto is going to amplify how we’re going to play and how we want to play” Sim said.
The Pats have also decided to give themselves mullets featuring a shaved hand picked personal design on the sides of their heads for their “playoff look”.
“Patty Kane did it when he had his mullet so I gave a photo of him to the hairdresser,” Bedard said. “I think his was a little nicer, he suited it, but I think mine’s all right,” Bedard said laughing.
Meanwhile, the Moose Jaw Warriors have earned home ice advantage for their opening round series against Lethbridge after finishing third in the East Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s really nice, I think that’s a big thing you know your home crowd and home rink,” Warriors defenceman Denton Mateychuk said.
“It’s unreal, we have the best fans in the league, an unreal rink here. So you know, it’s nice when it’s filled up and it’s loud. We’re super pumped,” Warriors forward Brayden Yager echoed.
The Warriors face a Hurricanes team they have a 3-1 record against this season.
“They’re a hard working team, they play quick, they like to make it hard on the defense. You know, get pucks deep and forecheck. I think we’ve just got to be ready for that and be ready to play hard like they do,” Mateychuk said.
“The biggest challenge of all I think they’re routine is built for playoffs. They make things real hard coming through the neutral zone and certainly in front of both nets. They’re diligent in the work areas, so we need to make sure that we’re managing that through the neutral zone and competing for loose pucks in front of both nets,” Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary said.
O’Leary will be behind his full team on the bench for playoffs as four of his players will return following their suspension. Connor Ungar, Max Wanner, Lynden Lakovic and Marek Howell were suspended in February after an off-ice incident while on a road trip in Edmonton. In March the league suspended them for the remainder of the regular season, but the Warriors have reinstated the four players for the postseason.
- Moose Jaw Warriors head coach and GM suspended, 4 players out for season following Edmonton incident
“It’s already helped [having them back] in terms of the energy. The excitement around the playoffs right now, those guys are a big part of that. Added a little bit of extra juice in the dressing room and they all play important roles for us, they have until this point and they will have to in the playoffs for us to be successful,” said O’Leary.
“We’re super pumped. We missed them obviously, they’re huge parts of our team. Wants [Wanner] is a big physical presence out there, Ungs [Ungar] he’s you know our starting goalie, he played unreal for us throughout the season. The two young guys as well just kind of filling in, having a little bit more depth you know,” Yager said.
“We learned from it and I think they did too. We’re really excited to have them back. I think that’s a big lesson you can take away from this is just adversity happens and you have to know what to do after that and it’s how you overcome it,” Mateychuk said.
The Warriors lost in the second round of the 2022 WHL Playoffs to the Winnipeg Ice and this year they will look to improve and build off last year’s performance.
“I think just the experience from last year and being a young group was huge. Obviously [we] ran into a pretty good team in Winnipeg. But I think just the experience for our young guys and just having the playoffs experience in general, the battling, the tight checking, you can make one mistake and the puck can be in the back of your net,” Yager said.
The team has decided their playoff motto is “Races and Battles”.
“We’re all about races and battles so I know it’s kind of getting a little greasy you know, playoff hockey is. The gritty goals, obviously the races the battles you know all over the ice. If we can come out with pucks, we’ll set ourselves up for success,” Yager said on the team’s motto.
The puck drops for both games Friday night at 7 p.m.
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