Tuesday’s matchup between Western Hockey League Moose Jaw and Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League winner Drummondville was a must-win proposition for both teams at the 2024 Memorial Cup that decides the overall champion of major juniors play in North America. Kraken prospect Jagger Firkus (35th overall, 2022) put his Moose Jaw squad up, 2-0, mid-game that later second period extended to a three-goal margin.

But Drummondville, the QMJHL (aka the ‘Q’) representative looking to make it five straight Memorial Cup titles for that league, scored twice in 57 seconds and added a third before the middle period ended.

Drummondville pounded the Moose Jaw net, outshooting the WHL champs 26-6 in the final period and pushing Moose Jaw goalie Jackson Unger to make 49 saves on the night. But the game was still knotted at 3-3 deep in the final period. Firkus was whistled for what some observers called a marginal two-minute minor for roughing with less than four minutes remaining.

Moose Jaw’s Aiden Ziprich, who hadn’t scored in 20 playoff games and totaled one goal in the regular season, was the unlikely hero and no doubt Firkus’ favorite teammate on the night when he scored a shorthanded goal with a minute and a half remaining. Moose Jaw scored an empty-net goal in the waning seconds to punch their ticket to Friday’s semifinal, with the winner of that game playing for the Cup on Saturday.

Firkus’ goal was his first of the tournament, blazing a one-timer from atop the left faceoff or his opposite side for the right-handed elite scorer. He now has three points (1G, 2A) in three games and will be looking for more Friday against whichever Ontario Hockey League squad, London or Saginaw, loses in Wednesday’s final game of round-robin play. Moose Jaw fell to both teams by the final score of 5-4, giving the WHL Warriors confidence they can find the back of the net with either team and look to goaltender Unger to stay hot.

Firkus is the fourth Kraken prospect to play in the storied Memorial Cup over the last three seasons. OHL Hamilton teammates Ryan Winterton (third round, 2021) and Logan Morrison (undrafted free-agent signee) were 2022 runners-up, and Peterborough center Tucker Robertson (fourth round, 2022) played in last year’s tourney. All three former Memorial Cup participants are now with the for-now Dan Bylsma-led AHL affiliate Coachella Valley, which opens the Western Conference final against Milwaukee Wednesday night in the southern California desert.

Recapping Games 1 and 2 for Moose Jaw, Firkus

The Western Hockey League champion Moose Jaw Warrriors have scored eight goals, four each, in their first two games of round-robin play at the 2024 Memorial Cup that decides the overall champion of major juniors play in North America. Kraken 2022 second-round pick Jagger Firkus, who led the WHL in scoring both during the regular season and that league’s playoffs, has assisted on his team’s fourth goal in those pair of games.

Problem is, opponents have scored five goals in both Moose Jaw contests to leave the Warriors winless after two straight one-goal defeats. Yet Firkus and his teammates, which include three other top NHL prospects, can advance Saturday’s Cup semifinal if Moose Jaw can beat Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League champion Drummondville Tuesday night in Saginaw, MI. Both clubs are 0-2 (losing to host Saginaw and the Ontario Hockey League champ London Knights), with any sort of win pitting the victor against whichever OHL squad loses Wednesday’s round-robin finale between Saginaw and London.

Firkus spoke with the CHL reporter Matt Tidcombe about how his squad can improve on the result Tuesday (4:30 puck drop, games are televised by NHL Network). Firkus is playing on a line with a pair of first-round draft picks, Matthew Savoie (No. 9 overall, 2022, Buffalo) and Brayden Yager (No. 14, 2023) that has logged three goals and five assists but Moose Jaw is the only team in the tourney to come up dry on power plays entering Tuesday action.

“Our power play can win us games throughout during the regular season and playoffs,” Firkus said post-game. “We created looks, but we need to get [the puck] in the back of the net.

“In tournaments like these, you don’t have time to give up those goals or give up those games. “ [Tuesday] is a huge game. It’s do-or-die. We know our backs are against the wall. We know we have to come out and play.”

Memorial Cup Results and Schedule:

May 24 – Game 1: Moose Jaw 4-5 Saginaw
May 25 – Game 2: London 4-0 Drummondville
May 26 – Game 3: Saginaw 4-3 Drummondville
May 27 – Game 4: London 5-4 Moose Jaw
May 28 – Game 5: Drummondville 3-5 Moose Jaw
May 29 – Game 6: Saginaw vs. London — 4:30 pm
June 1 – Semi-final — 4:30 pm
June 2 – Final — 4:30 pm

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