20240218 Okposo Youth

The Buffalo Sabres will hold Youth Hockey Day during their game against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, with special festivities planned throughout the afternoon in celebration of youth hockey in Western New York and Southern Ontario.

For the current Sabres – all of whom will enter the arena wearing the jersey of a local youth team – it will double as a reminder of their own early morning car rides and weekend tournaments.

We asked players to recall their favorite youth hockey memories ahead of Monday.

JJ Peterka

“When I was 10 or 11, we won the Bavarian Championships. The tournament was around two days and we played, I think, three games a day. That was crazy. All teams around us. Because it was just kind of a round robin, the team with the most points won.

“Before the last game, we had already won it. We were good that year, like we were actually good. So, it was pretty cool. We still ended up winning the last game too. But I think overall it was just a cool experience to go there, sleep there, and play so many games.”

Connor Clifton

“When you’re really young, your dad dresses you in the living room, fully dressed. You get in the car at five in the morning, you go back to sleep, he lugs you into the rink. Ties your skates, and you go play. Those early mornings, those were good times.”

Peyton Krebs

“Number one would probably be waking up at 6 a.m. with my dad, going to Timbits Hockey we called it when I was five. We’d get a Tim Hortons hot chocolate, it’s minus-20 outside, going to the rink with my dad. The player of the game got Timbits.”

Rasmus Dahlin

Rasmus Dahlin

Rasmus Dahlin

“Mini sticks in the hotel corridor. Every time you went on a tournament, you always played mini sticks in the hotel.”

Owen Power

“I think tournaments, playing mini sticks in the hotel. You go in the hall between the rooms and you’d just kind of play. That was always fun. I think you’d look forward to it when you go away.”

Kyle Okposo

“Odin had a tournament at Harborcenter this past weekend (during the Sabres’ bye week). He had six games. His last game finished as 12:57 p.m. on Sunday, they ended up winning the championship, and I had a meeting at KeyBank Center at 1 o’clock. I went from being coach for the weekend right back to player.

“I was up staring at the ceiling at like four in the morning thinking about the games on Sunday, what we were going to have to do. I was into it. It was a lot of fun, honestly, just seeing the kids. They just love it. You just remember what it was like.”

Alex Tuch

“I played in the Quebec Pee Wee Major Tournament. Sledding on the big sledding hill. It’s not even a hockey thing. It’s the largest sledding resort in North America – well, it was when I was growing up. I don’t know if it still is. But it’s something that every team on their day off goes and does. You’re in big, huge tubes, hanging out with your friends and all your teammates, your family. It’s an unbelievable experience.

“I had a lot of fun with that whole tournament. It’s like a two-week long tournament. I billeted. That whole experience is really cool. I played for (former NHL forward) Claude Lemieux’s team, actually. We were a band of misfits from all over the country. The Lemieux Academy Bulls.”

20240218 Johnson Youth

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson

“It was actually the Quebec tournament. I was 12 years old. It was our second game. We went to overtime against this team – I forget the team, but they were really good. It was probably scoring the OT game winner there in Quebec. I remember after I scored, I did like a crazy celly. Well, it wasn’t crazy, it was more so kind of floating on like one leg, so pumped up. And then I just remember feeling so ecstatic after. Even when I went to my billet house I was just so fired up. So that one is definitely a top one for me.

“It was cool too because earlier that day my billet mom took us to a cathedral and she said, ‘Pray and ask God for something.’ I remember I prayed and I asked God for a goal, and that was the night I scored the OT game winner.”

Henri Jokiharju

“I would say when we were nine years old, we had [a team of] the best players in Finland, we went to a tournament in Russia, and we won that tournament. Maybe we were 10. That was something special. I think (Dallas Stars defenseman Miro) Heiskanen was there with us. But there was a bunch from that team that still made it to the Finnish SM League, the highest level in Finland. So, we had a really good team there.”

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Casey Mittelstadt

Casey Mittelstadt

“For me at least, just hanging out with my dad, driving me to practice and all the games and out-of-town tournaments. A lot of car rides with my dad. I think I look back on that pretty fondly. And obviously a lot of friends that will be my best friends for a lifetime.”