Saturday, 7 January 2017

Sawchenko, Warriors stone Pats

Warriors goalie Zach Sawchenko stops Pats centre Jake Leschyshyn.
    REGINA - If you want to beat the premier team in major junior hockey, it helps to have a premier goalie.
    Moose Jaw Warriors netminder Zach Sawchenko was a WHL Eastern Conference first team all-star last season, and he is showing he is worthy of another all-star node in the current campaign.
    On Saturday night in Regina, Sawchenko made 39 saves, which included a staggering 22 stops in the third period, to back his Warriors to a 4-1 victory against the host Pats at the Brandt Centre.
    The Pats, who had won four in a row, were the top rated team in the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings and hadn’t lost in regulation time at home until Saturday’s setback. The Warriors, to their credit, have been a powerhouse in the WHL this season.
Tyler Brown stops a high shot for the Pats.
    Regina entered the third trailing their arch-rivals 3-1 and threw what seemed like everything including the kitchen sink at Sawchenko. The 19-year-old Calgary product turned away every test and saw shots through solid screens.
    Late in the third period, Sawchenko turned away Pats star centre Sam Steel, who fired a shot on goal from close range through a screen.
    Sawchenko said his team was trying to avoid a repeat result from the last trip to Regina. Back on Dec. 17, the Warriors took a 3-2 lead into the third only to fall 7-3, while being outshot 23-8 in the third period of that contest.
    “When you are called upon in this sport, you kind of have to do your job,” said Sawchenko. “I think the last time we were here we kind of blew the lead in the third and that was something that left us with a sinking feeling through Christmas break.
    “We definitely had this one circled on our calendar that is for sure. As for the screens, I just try to battle through. Obviously, the team needed a save there.
The Warriors celebrate a goal from Tristin Langan.
    “We couldn’t give them all the momentum and just be pushed back on our heels anymore.”
During Saturday clash between arguably the CHL’s greatest rivals, Sawchenko said he was in a zone.
    “I think the biggest thing was I was just seeing the puck really well,” said Sawchenko. “The team did a great job just clearing out those lanes and taking away second opportunities and just allowing me to see the puck and kind of do my thing out there.”
    For the longest time, it seemed the Warriors weren’t going to need any heroics from Sawchenko. Before a sellout crowd of 6,484 spectators that included a healthy contingent from Moose Jaw, the Warriors jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the 3:10 mark of the first with goals coming from the sticks of Tristin Langan and Jayden Halbgewachs.
Pats rearguard Connor Hobbs (#44) makes a poke check.
    The Warriors controlled play for the opening 10 minutes, but the Pats pushed back in the final 10 minutes of the first resulting in a net scramble goal from Steel to cut the Moose Jaw edge to 2-1.
    In the second, the Warriors had the Pats boxed into their own end for most of the frame. Working on a power play, Warriors star centre Brett Howden netted his 20th goal of the season to give the visitors a 3-1 edge heading into the second intermission.
    Pats star defenceman Connor Hobbs was disappointed with his team’s effort.
    “There is no excuse for how we played tonight,” said Hobbs. “It wasn’t good enough.
    “They outworked us in our own end. They were cycling around us and tiring us out and out changing us even in our own home rink. That is just unacceptable.”
    Regina tried to rally in the third holding a 22-5 edge in shots on goal in the frame. Sawchenko almost prevented the rally from happening by himself. Halbgewachs sealed victory for the Warriors icing the contest with an empty-net goal with 67 seconds to play.
    “We played really as a team in the first two periods, and we got away from playing that way in the third and gave up way too many shots,” said Warriors head coach Tim Hunter. “We played a little terrified in the third.
Zach Sawchenko makes a stop for the Warriors.
    “We weren’t moving out feet and getting pucks and getting them in behind their (defence). We allowed them to play in our end way too much. They are a good team.
    “If you allow them that, they are going to get territory and get shot opportunities. Sawchenko showed the great goaltender he is tonight and that was the difference in the third period for sure.”
    Tyler Brown turned away 34-of-37 shots in goal for the Pats, who fell to 27-4-6-1 and remain first overall in the WHL. The Warriors won their fourth in a row to improve to 25-9-6-1 and close to within four points in the standings on the Pats. Regina had three games in hand on Moose Jaw.
Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock thought his team was emotionally flat in Saturday’s loss.
    “I think you saw the product of not having to be at an emotional high level all the time,” said Paddock. “You just can’t turn it on and off. They were the better team.
The Warriors celebrate their 4-1 victory over the Pats.
    “We wanted to play, but we couldn’t play. They did a good job of not allowing us to. We did some things we don’t usually do.”
    Sawchenko was pleased with Saturday’s win, and despite how well everything went for him in goal, he still believes he can rise to a higher level.
    “I am just trying to get better every day,” said Sawchenko. “Obviously, I never want to take a step backwards.
    “I am always just trying to climb up this ladder here. It doesn’t matter if it is against Regina or it is against Prince Albert, I have a job to do, and there is no exception. Obviously, I have to go out there and do my job every night.
    “I don’t think this is the best I have ever been. I am just trying my best to get better every day.”
    The Warriors return to action on Tuesday, when they host the Tri-City Americans. The Pats return to action Friday, when they host the Americans.

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