Savoie enjoying final ride at Memorial Cup after nomadic final junior season

SAGINAW — Matthew Savoie knew the trade was coming.

The star centre had already shuffled between the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, their American Hockey League affiliate the Rochester Americans and then the Western Hockey League's Wenatchee Wild. He also played for Canada at the 2024 world junior championship.

On Jan. 4, the Wild sent Savoie to the Moose Jaw Warriors in exchange for a whopping seven picks in order to get draft capital to build for the future.

Savoie knew some of Moose Jaw's key players and was happy to get a chance to play for the Warriors.

"They needed to make some trades and deal some guys so I knew I had a good chance of getting traded," Savoie said.

"Once I got to the world juniors and I got to be around (Brendan Yager, Denton Mateychuk and Jagger Firkus) every day, I thought it was really cool that Moose Jaw was one of the teams that wanted to get me and I was really excited and really happy that they were the one."

The move paid off for the Warriors.

Savoie had 71 points (30 goals, 41 assists) in 34 games this season between Wenatchee and Moose Jaw, with 47 of those points coming in 23 games with the Warriors.

Moose Jaw ended up winning its first-ever Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champion by sweeping the Portland Winterhawks in its first league final appearance in 18 years. Savoie had 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 19 playoff games as the Warriors also earned their first-ever appearance at the Memorial Cup.

"To be honest, it just adds confidence in myself and, you know, adds a little bit of pressure but I think pressure is a privilege," Savoie said of the haul he was traded for.

"I was really fortunate that Moose Jaw wanted to get me and wanted to bring me in to be the final piece and couldn't have turned out better."

Now with a semifinal matchup against the host Saginaw Spirit on Friday, Savoie is embracing the moment in his first and final crack at a Memorial Cup title in his last junior season.

"Winning only gets tougher the more levels you move up, so it doesn't come easy, especially at this level and the next level," he said. "Just trying to cherish the moment we're in and trying to make the most of this opportunity.

"I think everyone in the locker room knows that Memorial Cups, teams don't go too often. It's probably a once-in-a-career type of thing so we gotta go after it and try to make it something special."

Savoie, who hails from St. Albert, Alta., has been among the WHL's best dating back to his time with the Winnipeg Ice, who were relocated and became the Wenatchee Wild this season.

The 20-year-old enjoyed 90- and 95-point campaigns in 2021-22 and 2022-23 on Ice teams that knocked out the Warriors from the WHL playoffs those seasons.

Savoie was a desired piece to get over the hump for Warriors head coach Mark O'Leary.

"If there's one guy that, if (general manager) Jason (Ripplinger) asked me at the start of the year, 'who should we bring in here to help put us over the top,' and 11 times out of 10 I would pick Matthew Savoie," O'Leary said. "I just think that we've seen the other side when he was in Winnipeg playing against us.

"That competitive edge that he plays with, not only with the puck but without it and the work that he does to hound pucks and get pucks back, I just think that that's what makes him special.

"You can see the highlight-reel goals and the plays that he makes but it's that work that goes into it that I'm most impressed about."

The five-foot-nine, 179-pound Savoie was a first-round pick (ninth overall) of the Buffalo Sabres in 2022. After being injured for much of training camp this year, he was assigned to Rochester on a conditioning assignment.

He had five points (two goals, three assists) in six games in the AHL before making his NHL debut on Nov. 10. Savoie was assigned to Wenatchee the next day.

The experience Savoie has brought to the locker room has been another plus for the Warriors.

"His calm demeanour. There's nothing that really fazes him," O'Leary said. "You can see his experience that he's had, whether it's playing pro games or certainly his time in our league, he's played in a lot of big games.

"He's confident in his ability, I think he brings a calmness and a confidence to our group and that's important, certainly in a moment right now going into a semifinal game."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2024.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press