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‘We’re not satisfied’: Warriors hungry for more after second round exit

Nick Pettigrew/Moose Jaw Warriors

A taste of playoff hockey has made the Moose Jaw Warriors hungry for more heading into the offseason.

“As pleased as we are, we’re not satisfied,” Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary said on Monday.

The Warriors finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, advanced into the second round of the WHL Playoffs and were the last Saskatchewan team standing this season.

All of which are major accomplishments for a young team that will return a large chunk of its roster next season.

“That loss definitely stings a little bit against Winnipeg, but we knew what we were going up against going into the series and really proud of the group of guys, we evolved as a team from the year and we’ve come a long way,” Warriors defenceman Denton Mateychuk said.

The Warriors posted a 37-24-4-3 record in the regular season, which was a huge improvement over the team’s 8-13-3-0 record during the Subway WHL Hub in 2021.

After advancing into the playoffs, Moose Jaw knocked out the Saskatoon Blades in five games and then pushed the top-ranked ICE to five games in the second round.

“We’re pleased with the steps that we took this year,” O’Leary said. “We had a goal in mind at the start of the year to make the playoffs and we did that, we were able to find some success early on in the playoffs and that’s important for our young group.”

The Warriors were a young team with the playoff roster including three 20-year-olds, four 19-year-olds, eight 18-year-olds, six 17-year-olds, three 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old.

O’Leary said getting into the second round of the playoffs with that group is a great learning experience.

“We found some consistency as a team and as individuals [as the season went on],” he said. “Once guys understand what they’re good at and how they can contribute to team success, that gives them confidence to keep doing it.”

Warriors forward Ryder Korczak said the team’s chemistry this season was a big part of the success on the ice.

“Throughout the course of the year, we really became tight knit and we bonded really well,” he said.

“Really proud of each guy in the room, it’s pretty special. I came here when I was 17 and we were rebuilding, weren’t the best team and then bring in a few new guys and see how they develop, that’s pretty cool to see how far we’ve came.”

Daemon Hunt has served as the captain for the Warriors over the past two seasons. He said the team matured as the year went on and he’s excited to see how the team will continue to grow.

“Having that playoff experience, we’re a pretty young team and we’re going to have a lot of hype around the Warriors, it’s going to be an interesting, fun team to watch,” he said.

Mateychuk said the experience gained in the second round shows the Warriors what it takes to win in the playoffs.

“We can definitely be a contender next year,” he said.

After a fun ride this season and with players heading their separate ways for the summer, O’Leary said his message to the team was thank you.

“As a coach, you go into a season and you have this vision of what you want it to look like and how you want the culture to be at the rink and that’s all well and good, but it’s the players that make that,” he said.

“The way they bought in and when you see them working the way that they did, as tight as they were, that makes it all the fun in the world and when the alarm goes off in the morning, I’m excited to come to the rink.”

O’Leary said the main thing he wants to see carry over is the culture that was built within the team.

“The older ones moving on, they put their imprint on our group and that’s one thing, our team was tight on and off the ice, and it shows in how they play,” he said. “That just helps and feeds that hungry that they have to do even better next year.”

The Warriors will return to the ice at the end of August for training camp.

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