The Buffalo Jr. Sabres came into Monday’s matchup with the Milton Icehawks having won eight of their past 10 games, and scoring 22 goals in their past three. That momentum didn’t carry over to the First Niagara Center for a special Veterans’ Day game as Buffalo fell to Milton by a score of 5-2.
Kane Elliot led the way for Milton with a goal and two assists, while goaltender Tyler Lewis was outstanding in stopping 49 of Buffalo’s 51 shots.
Buffalo head coach Michael Peca noted that while Milton’s offense was clicking, the Jr. Sabres didn’t help themselves when it came to being responsible defensively.
“Milton played a great game, and they came with a lot of speed. It’s not that we didn’t have a lot of energy ourselves, it’s just we refused to keep the game simple in our own side and continued to put ourselves in positions where we were turning the puck over and the fact that they continued to cheat for offense, they continued to get those odd man rushes.”
Buffalo’s top line of Pat Egan, Nolan Sheeran and Max Mikowski were held off the scoresheet, and Peca recognized the struggles they faced.
“They weren’t willing to get into the middle of the ice. They’ve been hot and they’ve been getting to the net and been scoring a lot of goals. Tonight, they just looked for the easy way out, everything was on the perimeter,” explained Peca. “They weren’t willing to get to the hard areas, and if you don’t do that then you’re not going to have that success. But I think it was just a matter of time before they had a game when they weren’t dominating.”
Mikowski was aware of his line’s problems during the game, and said they have to play better to lead this team.
“To be honest, it was pretty sloppy, a lot of breakdowns. It was a team we should beat in my opinion. But you can’t win every game, and it’s better to have a loss like that early in the season rather than late.”
Ryan Kuhn scored both Buffalo goals, with his linemates Chris Moses and Nico Gonzalez also picking up assists. Kuhn said the trio is really starting to gel offensively.
“We’ve been together about five or six games now and been playing really well, so we’re starting to develop some chemistry,” said Kuhn. “In the beginning [of the season] it was hard because we didn’t really have any lines going. Now we have some chemistry and we’re starting to play better.”
Peca was happy to see Kuhn’s hard work in every zone of the ice rewarded with the offensive production against Milton.
“Ryan has been one of our most consistent players for the last month. He’s been working extremely hard, and doing all the little things that if I was a coach I’d want on my team,” said Peca. “He’s finishing checks, getting pucks deep, and he’s getting to the net. All of his hard work is starting to pay off where he’s starting to get some goals and starting to see some production offensively. I know he’s been frustrated with that early in the season that it wasn’t coming, but he’s been patient and stuck with it and he’s continued to work hard, and he’s starting to get rewarded for it.”
Monday’s game was originally scheduled for November 12 at the Northtown Center, but was rescheduled to Veterans Day. Donations were collected for the Wounded Warrior Project in honor of the holiday.
Buffalo has been hampered by injuries in recent weeks, but that could be changing. Peca said defenseman Dennis Gilbert, who has missed the past 13 games with a torn meniscus, should be back for the team’s next game on November 18. Forwards Josh Gabriel and Ryan Schmelzer could return to the lineup in the next few weeks as well. Peca said the return of some of these players should create some promising opportunities for the team to continue improving.
“We’re going to start getting healthy, which is good. We’re going to start getting some guys slowly back from injury, and that will help solidify our lineup and kind of get that healthy competitiveness in the locker room where if you don’t produce, you might not be in the lineup the next night.”
The Jr. Sabres have a week off before returning to the Northtown Center for a game against North York next Monday. Their only other home game this month will be November 26 against Stouffville.
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