Sabres host best of the best
John Reid Memorial Tournament starts Thursday morning at Servus Credit Union Place
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Sabres are ready to play the underdog role at the John Reid Memorial Tournament.
The host team for the 35th annual St. Albert bantam AAA invitational tournament is looking to pull off an upset against the best of the best in western Canada.
“We’re really excited. We’ve been waiting and preparing for this tournament all year,” said forward Ryan Cox. “Hopefully we do as good as we can and win a couple of games.”
History is against the Sabres (6-14-7), ranked fifth in the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League’s nitro north division. The only St. Albert team to capture the tournament title was the 1983 Territorial Leasing Sabres.
Last year the Sabres finished the tournament with one win and four straight losses after going 2-3 in 2011.
“It’s a St. Albert tournament and St. Albert expects us to do good every year. This year we haven’t been the best but we’ve got to come in and hope for the best,” said captain Josh Mahura. “If we play within our systems we’ll be fine.”
Mahura, 14, and netminder Matt Murray are the only Sabres who played in last year’s tournament.
“It was awesome to be in, just the support going around St. Albert and the atmosphere and everyone hoping for you and talking about it. Obviously it was exciting,” Mahura said.
A long list of tournament alumni – Rob Brown, Greg Hawgood, Jamie McLennan, Rod Brind’Amour, Geoff Sanderson, Darryl Sydor, Rob Niedermayer, Scott Niedermayer, Jarome Iginla, Mike Comrie, Vincent Lecavalier, Scott Hannan, Brad Richards, Patrick Sharp, Jarret Stoll, Eric Staal, Joffrey Lupul, Devin Setoguchi, Jonathan Toews, Jordan Eberle – went on to play in the NHL.
“Lot’s of great players have come through it and we’re very honoured to be in it,” Cox said.
The tournament is also a scouting bonanza for Western Hockey League teams checking out draft-eligible bantam players.
“It’s definitely on your mind. Some players worry about it a lot, and it can effect your game a lot, but personally I try to just worry about the game and not who is in the stands,” said Mahura, a highly-touted defenceman. “You just have to play your game and do what you do best and worry about the outcome later.”
Going into the tournament the Sabres are playing their best hockey of the season after one of the worst starts in team history.
“At the start of the year we were struggling but lately we’ve definitely been improving a lot,” Cox said.
After tying the Maple Leafs 3-3 Sunday at Akinsdale Arena, the Sabres are 3-2-3 since head coach Donovan Sugiyama stepped down and was replaced by Norm Lacombe, the former Stanley Cup winner with the 1988 Edmonton Oilers and the first head coach of the St. Albert Steel.
Last season Lacombe was hired by the Whitecourt Wolverines midway through the North West Junior Hockey League campaign and led the team to a league record fourth consecutive championship.
Matt Woodland, the former head coach of the bantam AAA Sherwood Park Flyers, also joined the Sabres as an assistant coach.
Assistant coaches Kelly Smith and Wes Werhun remain with the team.
“I personally think everybody is buying into the systems and with each other and working harder,” Mahura said. “Everybody believes in these coaches and it helps so much believing in their systems and knowing what they’re going to do. They’re just really good guys.”
Grind out wins
The Sabres are a small but quick team that has to work hard for every goal they get. Murray (3-8-4, 3.43 GAA) and Joshua Dechaine (3-6-3, 3.81 GAA) sport save percentages above .900 despite facing a ton of rubber every game.
“We’re definitely not like a really skilled team or a flashy team. We have to grind out some wins and hard working wins at that,” Cox said.
Last week the Sabres put a scare in the 2012 provincial champion SSAC Southgate Lions (24-0-2) despite losing 3-2 at Millwoods Arena.
“It gave us some confidence. Everyone competed really well to the end and it proved that we can play with some of the best teams,” said Cox.
The versatile centre/left winger struck twice on the power play late in the second period and with 13:18 to play in the third after the Lions opened the scoring with three goals.
Murray stopped 45 shots and the Sabres were credited with only 15 shots.
“It was a good game overall. Everyone was going. They’re a really good team so it was definitely a good experience for all of us, especially with the new coaches, to lose by only one goal to them,” said Mahura, the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 21 points in 22 games.
Sunday the Maple Leafs (16-6-4) tallied twice before the Sabres closed out the second period with goals by Jake Warawa on the power play and Dylan Huot shorthanded.
The Maple Leafs regained the lead on the power play with 8:02 remaining, but Cox notched the equalizer with 2:13 to play
Shots were 38-28 for the Maple Leads and Dechaine was in net.
“We did play good in the second half but in the first half we were down 2-0 and we can’t let that happen, especially in the John Reid. Teams are better than this so we have to come prepared and focused and be ready to play,” said Mahura, a Grade 9 student at Vincent J. Maloney School.
Cox, 14, recorded his team-high 12th goal on a sharp pass by Zach Webb to knot the score. Both players are tied for the team lead in points with 28.
“We had it on the half boards and he made a good pass to me for pretty much a tap-in,” said Cox, who played bantam AAA last season for the Spruce Grove Saints.
The day before Cox represented the Sabres in the league’s all-star game and picked up an assist.
“It was awesome. It was a great experience. Lots of great players were there. It was really fun,” said the Grade 9 Vincent J. Maloney student.
Tuesday the Sabres played the fourth-place Canadian Athletic Club (10-13-2), but the score was unavailable at press time. The Canadians held a three-point edge over the Sabres for the last playoff spot with two games in hand.
The Sabres have five games left to make the playoffs.
“That’s definitely our goal right now. We’re getting closer, we’ve just got to win a couple of games here at the end and hopefully we’ll get there,” Cox said.