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Warriors beat Voltigeurs 5-3, advance to Memorial Cup semifinal

SAGINAW — The Moose Jaw Warriors were thrilled to qualify for their first Memorial Cup tournament.
Moose Jaw Warriors' Vojtech Port (44) celebrates his goal against the Drummondville Voltigeurs during first period Memorial Cup hockey action in Saginaw, Mich., Tuesday, May 28, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Duane Burleson

SAGINAW — The Moose Jaw Warriors were thrilled to qualify for their first Memorial Cup tournament.

The Western Hockey League champions from Saskatchewan were even more excited to record their first win as they defeated the Drummondville Voltigeurs 5-3 on Tuesday night in a must-win battle for both winless teams at Dow Event Center.

The Warriors, who grabbed an early 3-0 lead on goals by Vojtech Port, Jagger Firkus, Denton Mateychuk, needed an Aiden Ziprick short-handed goal at 18:26 of the third period to avoid overtime. Brayden Yager added an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left on the clock.

The Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League champion Voltigeurs, who stormed back to tie the game with goals from Justin Cote, Peter Repcik and Alexis Gendron, outshot the Warriors 52-28, including 26-6 in the third period.

Netminder Jackson Unger stopped 49 of 52 shots for Moose Jaw, while Riley Mercer stopped 23 of 27 shots in the Voltigeurs' net.

The Warriors led 1-0 after the first period and 3-2 heading into the third.

The Warriors went 1-for-1 on the power play while the Voltigeurs were 0-for-1.

"It's pretty special," the 18-year-old Ziprick said after the game. "It's a big tournament right now. Close game and we needed a goal. So to get one for the guys is just huge for me. I'll definitely remember that for the rest of my life.

"The who year, when we were up against the wall we know that's when we're at our best."

Unger was named player of the game for his superb 49-save performance.

"Throughout the game, you get in a groove," Unger said. "Seeing how many shots, even past like a 25-shot mark, you just know your game and you feel good in the crease."

Warriors coach Mark O'Leary has watched Unger improve as the stakes get higher.

"Sometimes the more workload he gets, the better he gets," O'Leary added. "That's just competitiveness. Tonight, we certainly needed him, over 50 shots, whatever it was.

"If anybody wants to talk fatigue, it's Jackson Unger. He's played a lot of hockey games this year and saw a lot of pucks But he found another gear when it got hard and (I'm) just real proud of the effort."

With the win, the Warriors (1-2) secured a berth in Friday's semifinal, while the Voltigeurs (0-3) were eliminated. The Volts' setback halts the QMJHL's hold on the Memorial Cup, having won it the past four times.

The Warriors play the loser of Wednesday night's game between the host Saginaw Spirit and Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights, both with 2-0 records. The winner of that game earns a direct berth to Sunday's championship game.

POKE CHECKS: The Memorial Cup Games Committee announced on Tuesday that the London Knights have been fined $1,000 and player Sawyer Boulton has been suspended for one game for a pre-game warm-up violation against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Monday. The committee said Boulton made unnecessary contact with a Moose Jaw player while exiting the ice following the completion of the warm-up. The suspension will be served Wednesday night when the Knights play the host Saginaw Spirit.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2024.

The Canadian Press