Upon entering the website of the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, the motto across the background reads “Unfinished Business.” In the early part of the season, it’s fair to say the team is set to finish that business.
The business to be finished, of course, is to advance to the Ontario Junior Hockey League championship and win the title. After finishing on top of the OJHL West division and earning the top seed in their playoff bracket last season, the Jr. Sabres lost in their quarterfinal matchup with North York. In 2013-14, the bar has been set much higher for this team, and they are well on their way to a successful season. The Jr. Sabres boast a record of 8-1-1-2, putting them on top of the OJHL West Division once again with 19 points in 12 games.
The Jr. Sabres have won four of their five contests in the month of October. Of those four wins, the biggest may have been their 6-2 home victory over visiting Milton on Wednesday. Milton entered the game two points back of Buffalo and would have taken the division lead with a win. But with three points from Pat Egan and excellent goaltending from Joseph Pianta, the Jr. Sabres earned a commanding victory at the end of the night.
Throughout the team’s hot streak in October, the offensive attack has been notably led by three players: forwards Egan and Ryan Schmelzer, and defenseman Nick Desimone. Egan leads all Jr. Sabres scorers in the month with four goals and five assists in five games. Schmelzer has contributed four goals and three assists, while Desimone has tallied three goals and five assists.
Beyond carrying the load offensively as the team’s three leading scorers, the trio also shares something else in common: they’re all counted on as major leaders for this team. Schmelzer is the team’s captain, while Egan and Desimone are assistant captains along with forward Max Mikowski, who has supplied the team with two assists and plenty of physical play this month.
Despite their early success, Buffalo has sustained some notable injuries. During the team’s home game on October 8 against Burlington, the Jr. Sabres lost two key players. Forward Joshua Gabriel injured his thumb and had surgery earlier this week. Head coach Michael Peca expects Gabriel to be out of the lineup for about eight weeks.
First-year defenseman Dennis Gilbert was also injured in the Burlington game. Gilbert was off to a good start this year, registering four assists in 10 games and playing a solid two-way game. But Gilbert suffered a torn meniscus at the end of the Burlington contest, and he will be having surgery to correct that injury Friday. Gilbert’s exact recovery time will be unknown to the coaching staff until after the procedure, but it is expected to be a four-week recovery at best.
Finally, forward Daniel LaFontaine has already missed eight games after injuring his knee earlier this season. Peca says that LaFontaine is now off crutches and should be returning to Buffalo soon to begin his rehabilitation, with a possible return as early as January.
Looking ahead to the rest of October, the Jr. Sabres will play four of their remaining seven games for the month on the road. Among those games, the most noteworthy include a rematch with OJHL North Division leader Newmarket on October 20; and a matchup with West Division contender Georgetown on October 26.
The Jr. Sabres have three more home games this month at the Northtown Center: October 22 vs. Orangeville; October 28 vs. Lindsay; October 30 vs. Cobourg.
Check out buffalojuniorsabres.com for complete schedule and ticket information.