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by Derek Wangler / Buffalo Sabres

He kills penalties, centers the first power play unit, can get you a goal late in a game, and preserve a one-goal lead. Ryan Schmelzer is the go-to-guy for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, and in the month of January he played better than any player in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).

On February 7, the CJHL named Schmelzer the First Star of the Month Award winner for the month of January. Schmelzer had 17 points (9+8) in seven games last month, including two four-point games and one five-point effort.

Head coach Michael Peca knows he can count on Schmelzer in any situation. Peca identified Schmelzer as the team’s best player at the start of the year.

“If we need a goal, he’s out there late. If we need to preserve a one goal lead he’s out there,” said Peca. “He’s the first guy over the boards to kill penalties, he’s on the first power play unit, and he’s the hardest working player in practice.”

The East Amherst-native doesn’t find it hard to describe his game to others. He just wants to be known as a guy who will do anything to help his team get a win.

“I say [I’m] a team player; I do what I can. I have strengths here and there, but nothing stands out more than another,” said Schmelzer “I just do what I can to help the team, whatever it comes down to.”

Schmelzer is currently tied for 10th in the OJHL in scoring, and sits second on the Jr. Sabres with 63 points (24+39), including 23 (9+14) on the power play.

The 6-foot-1 center has yet to make his decision on where to play next year. He’s holding out for a D-I opportunity that will allow him to play right away. If he doesn’t get the right offer, he’ll be back next season. Peca believes he will get his star player back for another season.

“I think Ryan can still grow as a player but more so grow physically and mature his body a little bit,” said Peca. “I think that’s what teams are looking for.”

Forward Nathan Pelligra has become the fifth member of the Jr. Sabres to confirm his college plans, recently confirming that he’ll be attending Manhattanville next year. Pelligra joins previous commits Parker Gahagen (Army), Derek Patterson (SUNY Plattsburgh), Nolan Sheeran (Canisius, 2014-15) and Darrin Trebes (SUNY Fredonia).

The Jr. Sabres power play unit continues to be successful as they have scored 62 goals in 50 games this season. Forwards Tyler Gjurich and Pat Egan lead the way on the power play with 10 goals each, while defenseman Sean Federow leads the team with 19 assists with the man advantage. Gjurich is the OJHL’s leading scorer with 88 points (47+41) in 48 games.

The Jr. Sabres have clinched a playoff berth, but are in a battle with division-rival Georgetown for the first seed in the South West Conference. With 74 points, Georgetown has a one-point lead, but Buffalo has two games in hand. Only five games remain in Buffalo’s fight for first. The team will have a tough test this weekend playing three games in as many nights. Friday they travel to St. Michaels to play the Buzzers (7:30 p.m.), then it’s off to Oakville on Saturday to face-off against the Blades (8:30 p.m.). The Jr. Sabres return home Sunday to play the Mississauga Chargers. Game time at the Northtown Center is 7:30 p.m.

Buffalo finishes off the regular season with a home game against Oakville on Wednesday (7:30 p.m.), and a road tilt in Orangeville on Saturday, February 23 (7 p.m.) to conclude the schedule.

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