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Moose Jaw Warriors gear up for 1st-ever Memorial Cup

The Moose Jaw Warriors have officially left town for their first-ever Memorial Cup appearance, this year hosted in Saginaw, Mich.

Last week the team became Western Hockey League (WHL) champions for the first time in the team’s 40-year history.

“Guys got some celebrations in early on and rightfully so,” Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary said when reflecting on the last few days. “We had some rust but we had a couple real good practices here. We have done a good job of resetting and looking forward with the job.”

The Warriors will begin the tournament taking on host Saginaw Spirit, the Ontario Hockey League‘s London Knights and the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League champion Drummondville Voltigeurs.

The Warriors finish off their round-robin play against the Voltigeurs on Tuesday, May 28.

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“These are good teams that we’re playing against and in order to make plays, we’re going to have to spend time in our defensive zone,” O’Leary said when asked about the level of competition ahead.

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Fans took to the streets of Moose Jaw Wednesday to cheer on the team bus as they made their way to the airport for the trip.

Throughout the WHL playoffs, players and fans have felt the city coming together.

“The city has been electric, obviously, it’s a pretty exciting time,”  Warriors forward Brayden Yager said. “Especially just hanging out with the group and seeing the reaction of the city everywhere we go. Everybody’s giving us congratulations and wishing us luck at the Memorial Cup.”

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It’s been 13 years since a first-time Memorial Cup participant lifted the trophy. Since 1972, seven teams have won the cup in their first appearance, with Saint John being the most recent in 2011.

It’s a stat Warriors Captain Denton Mateychuk hopes to change.

“It’s the top teams from all three leagues and it’s all good teams,” he said. “It’s going to be challenging, but for our group, we are all excited about it.”

Moose Jaw opens the Memorial Cup on Friday against the host Saginaw Spirit. The puck drops at 5:30 p.m. Saskatchewan time.

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