For the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, their recent six-game winless streak had put a serious dent in their stellar record from the first half of the season. Returning home to the Northtown Center on Wednesday, Buffalo made sure that streak did not make it to seven as they routed the Hamilton Red Wings 10-4.
Darren McCormick led all Buffalo scorers with a hat trick, including two goals 51 seconds apart in the second period. Josh Gabriel had two goals and an assist in his third game back from injury, and seven other Jr. Sabres recorded two points in the game. Joseph Pianta collected the easy win, stopping 18 of 22 Hamilton shots.
While the offensive output was impressive, head coach Michael Peca was not impressed with all aspects of the victory.
“It’s great to get a win again, it’s great to score goals again,” said Peca. “I think offensively we did a lot of things well, especially when we look at the win and see 10 goals. But it’s disappointing to see four on the other side; that’s a lot of goals to give up. We want to be a team that’s going to be able to compete in the playoffs, and you can’t give up four goals.
“We’ve got to learn to win one- and two-goal games, and you can only do that if you’re giving up one or two goals a game. When guys start scoring goals they feel like they have the right to give up a few goals, which isn’t the case. If I’m a goalie in that locker room I want to see us defend better as a team, for sure.”
Offense had been an issue for Buffalo, as they’d only scored 12 goals during their six-game slide. Ben Casale and Gabriel were able to open the offensive flurry with goals in the game’s first five minutes, which really set the tempo for the Jr. Sabres.
“It settled our whole team down. It was great for them to see that we could score two goals doing simple basic hockey things,” Peca said. “They weren’t the prettiest goals, but they are the goals you want to see your team create.”
Those simple hockey plays helped the Jr. Sabres to a blazing hot start this season, and that mentality helped the team end their only stretch of consecutive losses thus far this season. Buffalo’s next game is on the road against another divisional opponent, the Burlington Cougars. Peca stressed that his team has to continue bringing the intensity in order to keep winning.
“We have to go in with the mentality that it’s going to be hard. Games in that rink are always hard; it’s a small ice surface. We’re going to have to compete for every inch of ice, so we have to make sure [the players] are ready to go.”
A pair of Jr. Sabres received a league-wide honor this week. Forwards Pat Egan and Max Mikowski and defenseman Nick Desimone were named to the South-West team for the OJHL Central Canada Cup. The third annual all-star challenge will be held December 27-29 in Terrebonne, Quebec, and will feature six all-star teams from several Canadian junior leagues. The OJHL is sending two teams to the tournament, grouping together players into North-East and South-West teams.
With the Jr. Sabres looking to regain momentum heading into the second half of the season, some key players returning from injury will further increase the team’s depth. By next Friday, Peca hopes to see captain Ryan Schmelzer back on the ice. Defenseman Tony DeVito, who has not played yet this year after playing 50 games in 2012-13, could return next week as well. Forward Daniel LaFontaine is also still on track with his rehabilitation and is expected to be out for another month.
After Saturday’s road contest against Burlington (8 p.m.), the Jr. Sabres will return to the Northtown Center on Tuesday to face the Georgetown Raiders at 7:30 p.m.
The Jr. Sabres will also get the opportunity to play in the first outdoor game for an OJHL team later this month. Buffalo will face the St. Michael’s Buzzers at 2:30 pm on Sunday, December 15 at Frontier Field in Rochester, NY as a part of the Frozen Frontier festivities.
Click here for the complete Buffalo Jr. Sabres schedule and ticket information.