The Moose Jaw Warriors put an exclamation point on a historic season, laying claim to the franchise’s first ever Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as WHL Regular Season Champions with a 2-1 shootout victory over the Prince Albert Raiders Tuesday evening.
It’s been a long journey for a franchise that began its time in the WHL with a 28-win campaign back in 1980-81, when they were known as the Winnipeg Warriors. After four seasons in the Manitoba capital, the Warriors made their way to hockey’s heartland in Saskatchewan, settling in Moose Jaw, where they have resided ever since.
The 2017-18 season serves as the best in Warriors franchise history. With a record of 52-15-1-2 and 107 points through 70 games, the campaign ranks well ahead of the previous benchmark in franchise history, set back in 2011-12 when the Warriors skated to a record of 45-19-6-2, good enough for 98 points and an East Division crown.
Interestingly enough, the 2010-11 edition of the Warriors was led by WHL Alumni Quinton Howden, who posted 40 goals and 79 points in 60 regular season games. Fast-forward seven years to 2017-18 and it’s Quinton’s younger brother Brett serving as the leader of this high-powered Warriors squad, captaining the team and providing valuable offense of his own, with 69 points (24G-45A) through 47 contests.
As critical as the younger Howden’s presence has been, the Warriors recipe for success has come fresh out the kitchen being run by a feisty group of smaller skill forwards, starting with Jayden Halbgewachs – the 5-foot-8 pride of Emerald Park, Sask., and recent free agent signing of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. With 125 points (68G-57A) to his credit, the shifty centre holds a narrow lead atop the WHL scoring race (Glenn Gawdin of the Swift Current Broncos trails with 124 points) and is doing everything in his power to become the first WHL player to eclipse the 70-goal plateau since former Calgary Hitmen sniper Pavel Brendl achieved the feat, scoring 73 times during the 1998-99 campaign.
While not quite as slight as Halbgewachs, recent Arizona Coyotes free agent signing Brayden Burke measures up at 5-foot-11 and is enjoying his third consecutive season of productivity in the WHL, tallying 113 points (31G-82A) in only 61 outings.
Rounding out the trio is 5-foot-11 pivot Justin Almeida, who has absolutely broken out in his first full season in the Friendly City. Having previously notched a career-high 28 points (11G-17A) during the 2016-17 season split between Prince George and Moose Jaw, Almeida has shattered those totals in 2017-18, racing his way ever closer to the 100-point plateau with 96 points (42G-54A) to his credit through 70 games.
Boosted by key acquisitions ahead of the WHL Trade Deadline, including Ryan Peckford (from Victoria), Vince Loschiavo (from Kootenay), and most notably, Kale Clague (from Brandon), the Warriors boast depth, grit and all kinds of gusto.
As much as the high-octane offense has been the story of the season thus far, it was a tight-checking effort against a stingy Prince Albert squad that saw the Warriors clinch their first Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy. Needing 106 points to lock in the Club’s first WHL Regular Season Championship, the Warriors found themselves in overtime against the Raiders, but chose to ice the outcome with a shootout win, pushing their way to 107 points on the campaign.
From start to finish, the Warriors have found themselves among the top Club’s in the CHL – ranking among the CHL Top 10 for the vast majority of the year.
With 317 goals for, no team in the WHL has scored more than Moose Jaw in 2017-18. Conversely, the Warriors own the fourth-best goals-against total in the league, only allowing 205 pucks to pass through. Only the Swift Current Broncos (203), Portland Winterhawks (201) and Everett Silvertips (163) rank better in that category.
With home-ice advantage secured for the duration of the 2018 WHL Playoffs, the Warriors now await word on their first challenger. The Prince Albert Raiders became the 16th and final team to confirm their attendance in the WHL’s big dance, but final standings still hold a few possibilities.
All in all, this serves as one simple step towards a WHL Championship and an appearance at the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup, which will be hosted just down the road from Moose Jaw at the Brandt Centre in Regina this May.