Sabres crack .500 mark with sweep

The opponents changed but the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres kept rolling along, earning a pair of wins and fulfilling their goal of entering February with at least a .500 record.
Friday’s 4-2 win and Saturday’s 6-4 victory over the visiting Thunder Bay Bulldogs gave the Sabres’ their second-consecutive sweep and fifth-straight win.
“[Head coach] Wayne [Strachan] settled the goal at the start of the month,” captain Quinn Amiel noted. “We didn’t want to be, we had to be, .500 at the end of the month.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves.”
The Sabres went into Friday night’s game with just 15 players available due to a swath of suspensions and injuries stemming from an altercation the previous weekend when Thunder Bay Bearcats’ captain Brad Pawlowski jumped Sabres’ forward Chris Sinclair after the game-winning goal with just six second left on the clock.
Those watching the game from the stands read more like a list of all-star invitees than roster scratches, with the likes of Alessio Tomassetti, Mike Ainsworth, Ryan Faragher, Mike Parisien, Colin Spencer, and Chad Reynolds sitting in centre-ice seats in suits along with Strachan, who garnered a two-game suspension after the Bearcat series.
“I was looking forward to it until we actually had to play,” Amiel laughed.
“You know going in I can’t play the game I want to play,” he added, meaning eliminating hard, fast breaks to the net from the equation in favour of some cautious, two-way hockey.
“Getting into the play wasn’t at the top of my list,” Amiel remarked.
While the team had a fuller roster Saturday night, the Bulldogs put up a stronger fight and managed a brief lead from a power-play goal by Drew Childs before Amiel knotted the score again just half-a-minute later.
While Strachan put a good face on the situation, noting the advantage of watching the action from a different perspective, he remained realistic.
“It was tough. I’m not going to try and pretend it wasn’t,” he said. “Especially when we went down 2-1. It was hard to watch.
“Actually, I had to leave for a minute,” he admitted. “I came back and we had scored . . . I had to ask [myself] whether I should watch the game or not.”
The Sabres (16-15-3-3) haven’t had trouble with the league-worst Bulldogs (5-26-3-0) all season, but were concerned due to injuries and suspensions depleting the roster—especially after news had spread that the scrappy Bulldogs had bested the first-place Dryden Ice Dogs 5-2 the previous weekend.
Even with the Sabres’ recent streak, they’re only the second-hottest team in the SIJHL these days, with the Schreiber Diesels having won every game since their aborted folding over the Christmas break.
“It’s definitely going to be a race. Since [the Diesels] started playing again, they’ve been winning, too,” Strachan noted. “We know what it’s going to take to accomplish our goal [of finishing fourth].”
The Sabres, meanwhile, can go two games over .500 when they face the Ice Dogs (28-9-0-1) on Wednesday night.
While it’s been a month-and-a-half since their last meeting (a 5-2 loss Dec. 19), the Sabres know they can’t be taken seriously as a contender in this league with an 0-7 record against the SIJHL’s best.
Still, this team has shown definite progress since their last meetings. Since acquiring Sinclair and Steven Sus at the Dec. 1 roster deadline, the Sabres have lost just three of 13 games.
“I don’t think we have to change anything from what we’ve done in the last two weeks, three weeks,” Strachan said. “Dryden’s got a lot of skill up front, but . . . I don’t think they’re that much further ahead of us as a team.”