The St. Albert Sabres stormed out of the gate Thursday at the John Reid Memorial Tournament with victories over the Prince George Cougars and Calgary Bronks at Performance Arena.
“We played two good teams and battled hard,” said forward Sebastien Auray of the Sabres fast start at the 32nd annual St. Albert bantam AAA tournament.
In their morning game the Sabres edged the Cougars 4-3, led by Jeff Harrison’s game winner and two assists. Luke Mahura potted a pair and Braenden Farge added a single. Jake Mykitiuk chipped in with two assists. Mitch Martell earned the win as the Sabres outshot Prince George 35-19.
“We played a solid 40 minutes, probably the best 40 we've played in the last month. In the third we got into penalty trouble and they capitalized but we showed good resolve and capitalized on a big power play goal from Harrison,” said head coach Umberto Fiorillo. “Jeff's an offensive minded defender. He sees the ice extremely well and is the quarterback of our power play. He's been making it click in the last two games and I think our power play's won them both for us.”
Landon Bow started against the Bronks as the Sabres were outshot 29-25.
“We were flat coming out but we rebounded in the second half of the game,” Fiorillo said. “The two teams we've played pressure a different style than what we see in our division. What we usually see is more passive. These teams are pressing the puck real hard. Until we adapted and started moving the puck more efficiently, we didn't achieve any success.”
Through almost the full first two periods against the Bronks the Sabres struggled with the extra man, missing on the first six power plays. In the third their special teams rode them to victory, highlighted by three big kills.
“On the PK players were sacrificing and getting into shooting lanes and our D did a good job of tying up sticks in front. Your goalie is usually your best penalty killer and I felt Bow made some big stops,” Fiorillo said.
The Bronks scored the only goal of the opening period, as Cole Ully found a hole on the high blocker side during a power play at 12:40.
Two minutes into the second the Bronks doubled their lead when Ully's wrap-around attempt slipped through Bow's wickets on the power play.
Auray pulled the Sabres within one, moments later, snagging a rebound off Nick Crisanti's pad.
Luke Mahura evened the game at 4:38 on a beautiful backhand saucer pass across the net from Blake Bosch.
At 7:17, Jamal Watson broke in on a two-on-one and beat Bow above the left pad.
With 39 seconds left in the middle frame, Farge redirected a shot from Brett Smythe on the power play to knot the game at three.
Mahura notched his second of the game 30 seconds into the third on the man advantage, banking the puck in off Crisanti's hip and in, catching the goaltender off the post.
At 12:50 Auray found himself in alone on a breakaway as Mykitiuk was interfered with on a two-on-one break in the neutral zone. The pinching defender gave Auray a clear-cut path and he made no mistake burying it.
Mahura scored his hat-trick goal at 13:42, one-timing a blast right through Crisanti on a pass from behind the net from Auray.
“We took some penalties but stayed strong and came back as a team. We got pucks to the net and relaxed, made good passes instead of just throwing it around,” Auray said. “We decided we weren't going to get pushed around by them and we were going to play our own game.”
“We try to hit back a lot, even against bigger teams, and be as physical as they are and I think it worked tonight,” added Farge.
The Sabres wrapped up their round robin draw Friday against Pursuit of Excellence Academy of Kelowna. The score was unavailable at press time.
“We have to keep working hard and move our feet and play our game. We need good movement with the puck and getting shots to the net and getting in the goalie's face,” Farge said.
In the 16-team draw the top two teams in each of the four divisions advance into the A championship bracket. In the City Ford division after Thursday’s action, the Sabres had four points and the Pursuit of Excellence was next with three. With the Cougars losing twice Thursday and the Bronks recording one point in two games, the Kelowna club and St. Albert earned spots in today’s playoff round at Servus Credit Union Place to determine who qualifies for Sunday’s A semifinals at 8:30 a.m. The B and C consolation finals go at 11:15 a.m. The A final is 3:15 p.m. at Performance.
“We have to keep doing the little things we're working on. Our forecheck's been good, our D-zone is going to be real important and obviously special teams in a tournament like this have to be special,” Fiorillo said.
For the tournament playoff schedule and game scores, visit www.johnreidmemorial.com. The schedule is also on page 54.