Skip to content

Warriors coach O’Leary reacts to impressive showing in must-win game against Voltigeurs

Team continues to find ways to win when backs against the wall, with 5-3 victory in final Memorial Cup round robin game sending Moose Jaw to semifinal
Aiden Ziprick was the Warrior of the Game after scoring the game winning goal against Drummondville.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- Take a look at a winning playoff run by any team, and you’ll find a handful of unlikely heroes along the way.

Players who might not have the most points in the regular season, but find a way to step up in the most important situations and contribute at the perfect time.

On Tuesday night in the final round robin game of the Memorial Cup for the Moose Jaw Warriors, it was Aiden Ziprick’s turn to shine.

Despite scoring a single goal all season leading up to the must-win game against the QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs, Ziprick would score on a shot from the high slot with 1:35 remaining in regulation, and the Warriors would go on to a 5-3 victory to remain alive in the national major junior hockey championship.

“It’s fitting in a game like this, where someone like Zip comes up with the big one,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “He’s such a popular teammate, you’re not going to find a better person and I’m just really happy for him, that he could find a way to have the big moment.”

The game as a whole was as big a moment as they come -- thanks to a pair of one-goal losses to Saginaw and London in their previous two games, the Warriors had to have their best game of the tournament to stay alive.

They were full marks in the first half of the game, roaring out to a 3-0 lead before Drummondville threw everything they had at the Warriors in the final period and a half, eventually tying things up early in the third.

“Our energy and enthusiasm, our structure, it was just good hockey to start the game,” O’Leary said “They had a pushback in the second period with a couple goals against, but really, the first half of the game I loved our play and then in the second half we just found our way… It was a heck of a hockey game and it’s nice to be standing at the end.”

One thing that’s for certain is it would very likely have been a different result if not for goaltender Jackson Unger. It was another stellar showing for the 19-year-old netminder, as he faced a total of 52 shots on the night, including 26 in the third period alone. But as he has done all season, Unger found a way to make the big saves his team needed and was rightfully named the Player of the Game.

“He almost gets better the more work he gets, to be honest,” O’Leary said. “He was sharp tonight, and as much as there were stretches where we looked lethargic, I thought he got better at the big moments and at the end of the day he was our best player, all night.”

All in all, it was another big win at a crucial time for the 2023-24 Moose Jaw Warriors, something that at this point has become a bit of a broken record.

“It’s a habit now,” O’Leary said. “I don’t think there’s a moment that’s too big for this group, they’re so tight knit and they don’t want to let each other down, they’re playing for each other and it’s all those things you see in a championship team.

“Then games like this, they just bring them even tighter. It doesn’t matter how you win the game or what went into it, it’s just getting the job done and different guys found a way to contribute tonight.”

Now, it’s on to the Memorial Cup semifinal on Friday night. The Warriors will face the loser of the final round robin game between London and Saginaw, which takes place Wednesday. It’s then an off day for the three remaining teams on Thursday, followed by Friday’s semifinal and the championship game Sunday.

“I’m just looking forward to getting a second chance at one of those teams,” O’Leary said. “We had stretches in both games against Saginaw and London where we liked our game and stretches where we didn’t, so it’s exciting to have a second opportunity on Friday.”

Puck drop on Friday is 5:30 p.m., with the game broadcast on TSN.