For fans inside Rogers Arena on Saturday night, their hopes of seeing the Warriors win their first home game quickly dwindled as their side were rocked by a 4-0 blitz from the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush in the first five minutes of the contest.
Following the hot start from the Rush, Warriors head coach Chris Gill pulled his often reliable starting goaltender Aaron Bold and replaced him with Eric Penney. The move seemed to do the trick, at least enough to allow the Warriors to make run of their own.
After going down 5-0, the home team went on an extended 7-3 in the last 18 minutes of the first half to cut the Rush lead to 8-7 before the midway break. During the run, the Warriors had six scorers on their seven goals and Penney stopped 18-22 shots. Coach Gill was pleased with his team’s effort to get themselves back in contention during that bounce-back run.
“We were able to settle in and clean up some of our mistakes,” said Gill. “Obviously the goaltending change was big. Penney came in there and he played really really well. Our defence stepped up and played our system. The first four or five minutes really wasn’t in our game plan, so we cleaned that up.”
The Warriors continued their run early in the second half with Jordan McBride scoring his second goal of the night – his first goal was the last score of the first half – to bring the game to an 8-8 tie.
“There’s no quit in this team,” said Gill. “That’s something that’s happened every game. If times get tough or if there’s a three, four or five-goal run – we’ve had a couple of 10-goal runs against us – the boys are ready to battle.”
Unfortunately, in typical championship-form, the Rush were able to remain standing despite punch after punch the Warriors threw at them.
The 8-8 tie would be as close as the Warriors would get for the rest of the evening. Back-to-back Ben McIntosh goals – two of his five on the night- drove the lead back to two goals before a Mitch Jones score cut that to one before the end of the third period.
In the low scoring 2-1 third period in favour of the Rush, Penney added nine more stops. By the end of the game, Penney stopped 32-41 shots to complete his notable back-up performance.
Yet, despite his efforts and the slim two-goal Rush lead heading into the final period, the Rush outplayed the Warriors in the last 15 minutes en route to a 14-10 victory.
Clearly one of the brightest spots of the game was Penney’s outing. It was a 55-minute effort from the from Rexdale, Ontario-native that showcased some of what he is capable of and it also might have increased his chances of getting more playing time.
“It was fortunate that Penney went in there and just played unbelievable,” said Gill. “We just kept [Bold] off and the guys rallied around that.”
“Penney could be a starter. We’ve got two good goalies, so we’ll watch tape and get our gameplay together.”
Even though Bold had been taken off the floor early on, he was still having a significant impact on the game. Throughout the match, Penney was listening to the former Rush goaltender about ways in which he could out-smart the opposition.
“[Bold] has played with a lot of those guys,” said Penney. He’s familiar with some of their shooters and some of their tendencies. He was giving me some pointers on how to play certain shots on certain guys in certain situations.”
Not to be forgotten from Saturday night’s game was the play of a few other Warriors. In their return to the lineup after healthy-scratches last week, Tony Malcolm and Owen Barker scored a goal each. The Warriors also had hat tricks from McBride and Jones.
After accomplishing his first hat trick in six years last weekend against the Georgia Swarm, McBride added another hat trick tonight (and two assists) bringing his season totals to eight goals and four assists over three games.
On the defensive side of the ball, the disruption and aggression of Beers and McCready seemed to rattle the Rush offence throughout the contest. Beers also had one assist, 10 loose balls scooped up and two caused turnovers to his credit while McCready added two assists.
Despite the fight in this Warriors club, the team now sits at 1-4 to start the year. Coach Gill knows that next weekend’s home game is the an opportunity to continue to create more excitement for the fans.
“We want [Rogers Arena] to be a tough place to play,” said Gill. “We want the fans to be excited. I think we’re putting up a good product out there. The more [the fans] are intense and the more they are getting into it, it’s better for us.”
The next game for the Warriors is Saturday, January 19th against the San Diego Seals. The Seals currently sit just 1.5 games ahead of the Warriors in the West Division, so the team’s first home win would intensify the playoff race.