Grab a broom: Warriors sweep Wheat Kings
A broom made its way around the stands at Manitou Kihew Arena last Wednesday night, as the Saddle Lake Warriors erased a four-goal deficit to pick up an 8-5 victory, sweeping the Killam Wheat Kings from the playoffs.
“We’ve been trying to be a strong winning team like the other strong teams in the league, like Cold Lake, Lloydminster and Wainwright. We’re trying to get up there in the top four of, I guess, promoting that fear into other teams,” said Warriors Coach Ben Ross. “I guess maybe we are getting to that stage, in a way we’re already at that stage too, we’re in the same boat as them now.”
While the Wheat Kings jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first period, Warriors’ forward Jojo White put the team on his back, kick starting a comeback with a penalty shot goal late in the first, assisting on another with one minute remaining in the opening frame and picking up four more points on the Warriors four ensuing goals to lead his team to victory. The six-point night puts White at 12 points in through four post season games.
“It feels really good. I’m just trying to do my part,” White said of his performance on Wednesday, adding the Warriors are a force to be reckoned with when they aren’t suffering from a short bench. “It’s good. Once we get our whole bench we can go a long way. Hopefully everyone shows up.”
Saddle Lake knotted the game up at four in the second period with two goals from Brandon Cantre and one from Dallas Desjarlais, all assisted by White. With 28 seconds left on the clock in the second, Killam stole back the lead, 5-4, but the Warriors refused to leave the ice in another hole, and White struck again with seven seconds left in the period to tie the game back up, 5-5.
“We just got into the dressing room and talked about how we needed to bear down and keep going, that’s about it,” said Cantre, who had two goals and an assist in Wednesday’s series-clinching victory, adding the boisterous crowd was a huge motivating factor in the comeback. “The crowd was great. It makes you feel good and want to play better.”
When the third period rolled around, Saddle Lake took over the game. Dillon Alexis put the Warriors ahead with a power play goal just over a minute into the period, and the Wheat Kings threw discipline to the wind.
At the halfway point of the third, Killam forward Myles Ellert was called for roughing after the whistle and lost it in the penalty box, slamming his stick repeatedly against the glass until the pane broke. The broken glass caused for a lengthy delay in the game, as crews had to cut and replace the missing pane before play could resume, but the delay didn’t phase the Warriors.
Braeden Makokis-McGilvery put the game away with just over a minute remaining in the period, lifting his team to a 7-5 lead before Alexis added his second of the period to ensure his team a spot in the second round against Cold Lake.
“This is exactly how we’ve been trying to play, we’re going to keep going. We’re just waiting for the next series,” said White, adding he feels the team is on a strong enough pace to compete with the league-leading Ice. “It’s been pretty good, we’ll just wait and see I guess.”
Ross said he also believes the team is competing at a high enough level to compete with the likes of Cold Lake, and was excited to announce that Dalton Morin, a first line player from last year’s roster, will be joining the team in the second round of the playoffs.
“I believe it will be enough firepower. We have one more player that’s signed, (Dalton Morin) but he didn’t come out tonight because we wanted him to start in the beginning of the series. He’s going to be starting with us in Cold Lake,” he said. “He’ll definitely bring a bit of contribution to the table, and hopefully the boys will pull through and have a good series.”
Ross added the fan support at Manitou Kihew Arena was “incredible,” as fans packed the seats with signs and brooms, and cheered the Warriors on even as they fell in an early 4-0 hole.
“I’m a very honourable person, I really believe in the honours system and I have a lot of respect, that’s probably why I’m real quiet on the bench, too, at times. There’s no use to argue and yell and rant, it’s a hockey game. The boys are playing hockey, so let the them play hockey,” said Ross. “Having that fan support was incredible.”
The schedule for the second round of the NEAJBHL playoffs was not released by the Journal’s press deadline.