(Marc Smith/DiscoverMooseJaw) Tim Hunter had the eighth-most penalty minutes in NHL history, but the Moose Jaw Warriors haven’t played to that same style during his tenure as head coach of the Western Hockey League team.
Over the past five seasons, the Warriors have consistently been one of the league’s least penalized teams and this season, they set a new franchise-low with just 644 penalty minutes, breaking the previous mark of 764 set in 2017-18.
Hockey has changed dramatically over the past decade to help with that decline in penalty minutes — the Warriors’ individual single-season franchise record for penalty minutes is 342 set by Rob Trumbley in 1993-94 — but there’s a bit more to it than just that for the Warriors. Hunter said that playing a disciplined game has been something that he’s had the Warriors focused on since coming to Moose Jaw.
“The game is changing, it’s not the smash mouth, dump-and-chase, run over guy hockey as it was 10-15 years ago, or back when I played in the Western Hockey League 40 years ago,” said Hunter.
“My philosophy is when you kill the least amount of penalties, your penalty kill is going to be pretty good. The less number of penalties you kill, the better off you are as a team — you’re playing five-on-five, you don’t have to drag guys in to do extra work to kill penalties and sacrificing to block shots, which leads to guys getting hurt.”
The Warriors finished this season with the second-lowest penalty minute total in the league behind Medicine Hat, who has been the least penalized team in the WHL for the past two seasons.
To go along with the low penalty total, Moose Jaw also sported the seventh-best penalty kill in the league, allowing only 43 power-play goals against this season.
Playing disciplined doesn’t mean playing soft for the Warriors either. Hunter said it just comes down to playing smarter and eliminating the needless penalties from your game.
“Number one is your stick is a very important tool and when you’re reaching into the gloves and arms of guys, you’re not worried about the puck, you’re worried about something that’s going to lead to a penalty, so I teach stick on puck because the puck is the most important thing that goes in the net, not the body,” said Hunter.
“The other side of it is the penalties that are needless, ones that are 200-feet from your goal and then the ones that are the most useless penalties are what I call ‘feel good’ penalties, some guy hits you hard and you want to automatically respond by slashing them or crosschecking them back but that only makes you feel good, not the rest of the team because they have to go out and kill the penalty.”
The players have gotten the message as evidenced by the decreasing penalty minute totals over the past few seasons.
“If you take less penalties during a game, it’s going to give your team the best advantage to win because special teams mean a lot in this league so if we can keep that up, it’s good for us,” said Justin Almeida, who won the Warriors’ Most Sportsmanlike Player award with just 14 penalty minutes in 64 games this season.
“We’re conscious of it, we try to move our feet, try not to get our sticks in feet and around the body to get hooking or slashing penalties.”
Disciplined play is going to be key for the Warriors as they head into a first-round playoff series with the Saskatoon Blades, who scored the sixth-most power play goals in the WHL this season with 65, which was five less than the Warriors.
“Special teams win or lose series,” said Almeida. “When you don’t have home-ice advantage and are on the road, you want those advantages when you’re on the power play, so discipline is going to be huge for us.”
The Warriors head into the Bridge City on Friday for Game 1 against the Blades.