For the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, offense has come fairly easily this season. But whereas the scoring came mostly from a few top players earlier in the season, many players have found ways to improve their game.
One of the players that has made significant strides at the forward position is Darren McCormick. The 20-year-old native of West Seneca has elevated his play significantly since being moved to left wing on the team’s top line.
Over Buffalo’s last 10 games, McCormick has been their leading scorer with 10 goals and 19 points. That included a seven-game goal scoring streak that was snapped during Buffalo’s last game, a 3-1 loss to the Aurora Tigers on Jan. 21.
His current linemates, center Nolan Sheeran and right wing Pat Egan, have been the team’s top scorers all season long. McCormick has quickly developed offensive chemistry with those two.
“I just really like playing with [Sheeran and Egan], I think we’re clicking really well together,” McCormick said. “Nolan seems to find me a lot of the time, just been cashing in on the opportunities. And Egan’s been in all the right places, so it’s easy to get him the puck too.”
The three gifted offensive players have caused teams a lot of headaches by using their speed and vision to move the puck around in the offensive zone.
“Our main thing is we try to get it low and just attack from the corner,” McCormick said. “[We] try to set up plays; get the puck moving around as much as we can, and open some lanes up for some shots. When we’re playing with it in their end, coming out and attacking the net, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Assistant coach Al Heerdt had some high praise for McCormick as well.
“Darren is a very high-tempo, very skilled and intelligent player on offense. He’s able to adapt to multiple situations, that’s why we use him with Egan and Sheeran.”
While the offensive production has been there all year for McCormick, his complete play has gradually improved as the season has progressed. Now with the playoffs less than a month away, McCormick knows that everyone on his team has to be ready to take their game to another level.
“It’s getting down to the wire and we’re getting ready for the playoffs. I think we’re trying to get everyone in good habits and try to help the team out in any way we can.”
Speaking of the playoffs, Buffalo suddenly has some competition for the top spot in the OJHL’s West Division.
While Buffalo has held first place for the whole season, the Milton Icehawks and Georgetown Raiders are both in hot pursuit of that top seed. Buffalo has 53 points currently, while Milton has 51, and Georgetown 50. But the Jr. Sabres have two games in hand on Georgetown and four on Milton.
As the final month of the regular season gets underway, Buffalo has 11 games to play in 22 days - and that does not included a matchup against the Whitby Rush that was postponed on Monday due to the inclement weather.
With that much game action right before the playoffs, Heerdt is confident that the team will be ready for the postseason.
“We’re definitely going to get our flow of games, and get a great understanding before the playoffs.”
The wait is almost over for forward Daniel LaFontaine. After missing all but four games with a knee injury, LaFontaine is just about ready for game action. Heerdt thinks LaFontaine could return in the next week or two.
With all the offensive depth, LaFontaine will be another addition that makes Buffalo that much more dangerous with the postseason on the way.
“He will definitely help out the front end with his creativity and his ability to see the ice,” explained Heerdt. “He will definitely be an asset when he comes back.”
Buffalo will hit the road for two contests this weekend, playing against the Toronto Junior Canadiens on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and then traveling to Hamilton to take on the Red Wings in another 7:30 p.m. game on Monday.
The next two chances to see the Jr. Sabres at the Northtown Center will both come on Tuesdays. Buffalo will host the Oakville Blades on Feb 4, and the Wellington Dukes on Feb. 11. Both games are 7:30 p.m. starts.
Click here for the complete Buffalo Jr. Sabres schedule and ticket information.