East Division rivals clash as Warriors, Wheat Kings battle on Sportsnet’s Saturday Showcase


Moose Jaw Warriors (28-6-1-2) at Brandon Wheat Kings (25-9-0-1)

Saturday, December 30 – Westman Place 1:30 p.m. (Mountain)

 Sportsnet, Sportsnet Now, WHL Live


Heading into the 2017-18 Western Hockey League regular season, the East Division was expected to be a vicious battle for points and positioning throughout the year as one of the most intriguing divisions to watch in the Canadian Hockey League.

Roughly halfway through the season, the division has lived up to the hype, producing three of the top five teams in the CHL and five teams that would be playoff-bound if the post-season began today with another just on the outside looking in.

So, when the Moose Jaw Warriors head east to battle the Brandon Wheat Kings on Sportsnet’s Saturday Showcase, it’s no hyperbole when we say that the two points on the line will be huge to both clubs.

Eight points currently separate the division-leading Warriors from the third place Wheat Kings, but both teams share similar team characteristics that will have them battling down to the wire in March. Saturday’s game will feature two of the three WHL clubs with a .700-plus winning-percentage, both have given up an equal amount of goals against (113) and each currently have NHL talent leading their rosters while another NHL drafted player wears the red and white with Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship..

WHL goal scoring leader Jayden Halbgewachs (San Jose Sharks) signed his first professional hockey contract Thursday and will go toe-to-toe against the likes of Stelio Mattheos (Carolina Hurricanes) and his team-leading 27 goals. Overall, Halbgewachs and Mattheos have gone on an offensive rampage through December with Halbgewachs scoring 19 points (12G-7A) in 11 games to Mattheos’ 18 points (8G-10A) in 10 games. Another name worth mentioning is that of Warriors forward Brayden Burke, who has compiled 21 points (6G-15A) in just nine games this month.

This game should have all the makings of an offensive slugfest, especially after their meeting earlier this month featured 11 goals in a 7-4 win for the Warriors at home. The game could also very well be decided by the respective goaltenders in a matchup that should pit a pair of 20-win goaltenders against each other as Logan Thompson and Brody Willms are expected to do battle from opposite ends of the rink.

Willms can lay claim to the fourth-best goals-against average in the WHL for qualified goaltenders at the moment (3.05) while Thompson isn’t that far behind with a 3.15 average. Willms and Thompson sit second and third in the league respectively for victories. They’re also tied for fourth in the league with two shutouts each and could very well meet again in the playoffs with how good both clubs have been.

As big as the gap of eight points might be, the Wheat Kings have been unable to chip away at reducing that deficit in their past games, due to going 8-2-0-0 compared to the 8-1-1-0 record of the Warriors. That speaks to the competitiveness of the division and to the work the Warriors have done to keep themselves ahead of the rest.

Saturday’s battle will have a four-point swing in the standings and all the feeling of a playoff battle, but it is still just the beginning of a season series that will see the teams meet three times in March, including two games in the final weekend of the season that could very well alter playoff matchups in the Eastern Conference.

On hand for Saturday’s game will also be the Mastercard Memorial Cup, making its way across Canada with a stop in Brandon where it will be available for fan viewing after making a visit to CFB Shilo Friday.

Catch all the action #WhereGreatnessBegins live on Sportsnet’s Saturday Showcase!

Moose Jaw Warriors

Record: 25-9-0-1
Head coach: Mark O’Leary (Filling in on an interim basis while Tim Hunter attends 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship)
Leading scorers: LW Brayden Burke (17-52-69); C Jayden Halbgewachs (37-27-64), C Justin Almeida (22-29-51)
Leading goaltender: Brody Willms (29 GP, 21-5-1-2, 3.05 GAA, 0.903 SV%, 2SO)
Power play: Seventh – 25.9 per cent
Penalty kill:  Fifth – 80.7 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: C Brett Howden (World Junior Championship)

Brandon Wheat Kings

Record: 28-6-1-2
Head coach: David Anning
Leading scorers: LW Ty Lewis (19-40-59); C Stelio Mattheos (27-28-55), D Kale Clague (10-37-47)
Leading goaltender:  Logan Thompson (28 GP, 20-7-0-1, 3.15 GAA, 0.912 SV%, 2SO)
Power play: Fifth – 26.7 per cent
Penalty kill:  15th – 75.5 per cent
Injuries/Unavailable: RW Rylan Bettens (lower body, day-to-day); D Kale Clague (World Junior Championship)

Season series
Dec. 16 – Brandon 4 at Moose Jaw 7
Dec. 30 – Moose Jaw at Brandon*
Dec.31 – Brandon at Moose Jaw
Feb. 19 – Moose Jaw at Brandon
Mar. 2 – Moose Jaw at Brandon
Mar 11 – Brandon at Moose Jaw
Mar. 16 – Brandon at Moose Jaw
Mar. 17 – Moose Jaw at Brandon

*Sportsnet Saturday Showcase broadcast

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