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JUNIOR SABRES BUILT FOR SUCCESS

Friday, 09.27.2013 / 11:23 AM / News
By Joe Ray  - Digital Content Intern
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JUNIOR SABRES BUILT FOR SUCCESS
After a stellar Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season in 2012-13, the Buffalo Jr. Sabres fell short in the playoffs, losing to North York in six games in the conference semifinals. Following the postseason defeat, the Jr. Sabres lost two of their star players, forward Tyler Gjurich and goaltender Parker Gahagen, creating two big holes to fill in the lineup. Despite the roster turnover, the Jr. Sabres are still positioned for an excellent season in 2013-14. With four wins in their first games this season, head coach and general manager Michael Peca is excited by the combination of talented players the Jr. Sabres have accumulated.\r\n

After a stellar Ontario Junior Hockey League regular season in 2012-13, the Buffalo Jr. Sabres fell short in the playoffs, losing to North York in six games in the conference semifinals. Following the postseason defeat, the Jr. Sabres lost two of their star players, forward Tyler Gjurich and goaltender Parker Gahagen, creating two big holes to fill in the lineup.

Despite the roster turnover, the Jr. Sabres are still positioned for an excellent season in 2013-14. With four wins in their first games this season, head coach and general manager Michael Peca is excited by the combination of talented players the Jr. Sabres have accumulated.

“When you’ve got great veteran leadership and young, eager guys that are respectful and willing to listen, it creates a pretty good environment,” Peca said.

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At the goaltender position, Gahagen was a force for the Jr. Sabres last season, going 29-10-4 with a 2.55 GAA and seven shutouts. Now Gahagen is playing college hockey at Army, and he is replaced in goal by Joseph Pianta and Brandon Mueller. Peca feels especially comfortable with the goaltending situation this season considering the loss of a player of Gahagen’s caliber.

“[Pianta’s] a class act. He comes to the rink every day prepared to have really good practices. It was important for us to find a guy that can carry the load like Parker [Gahagen] did for two years for us, and Joe’s that guy. He’s a gamer; he’s a goalie that you want because he makes big saves at big times in a hockey game. So we’re fortunate to have been able to get him,” Peca said.

Gjurich -- who is now in the training camp of the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack after attending Buffalo Sabres development camp in July -- led the Jr. Sabres in scoring last season with 53 goals and 97 points and was named OJHL MVP. Peca believes that it will require more of a team effort to replace Gjurich’s offensive output, looking to veteran forwards such as Nolan Sheeran, Max Mikowski and Tim Kielich, along with younger players like Michael Ederer, Nick Smith, Josh Gabriel and Nico Gonzalez.

One of the team’s leading scorers in the early part of the season was Daniel LaFontaine, son of former Buffalo Sabres center Pat LaFontaine. After picking up two goals and five assists in the team’s first four games, Lafontaine injured his knee had surgery on Tuesday that will keep him out of the lineup for three to four months. While Peca acknowledged the loss of LaFontaine, he was confident that his team will step up to the challenge.

“I think the one thing we have on our team this year, maybe as good as it’s been any year of this program, is that the depth is extremely strong. We’re four lines deep. It’ll be important for everyone in the lineup to fill the hole,” Peca said.

The Jr. Sabres also have a strong leadership core with captain Ryan Schmelzer and assistant captains Mikowski, Sheeran, and Nick DeSimone.

Already off to a strong start this season, the Jr. Sabres are well positioned to defend their Ontario Junior Hockey League West Division title.

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
C. Hodgson 72 20 24 -26 44
T. Ennis 80 21 22 -25 43
D. Stafford 70 16 18 -19 34
C. Ehrhoff 79 6 27 -27 33
C. Stewart 63 15 11 0 26
C. Conacher 79 7 19 1 26
T. Myers 62 9 13 -26 22
Z. Girgensons 70 8 14 -6 22
M. Foligno 74 7 12 -17 19
J. McBain 69 6 11 -13 17
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
M. Neuvirth 4 8 2 .921 2.78
J. Enroth 4 17 5 .911 2.82