Sabres draw big crowds But go winless in three games in pre-season

The Fort Frances Jr. Sabres drew impressive crowds throughout their weekend-long pre-season but gave them little to cheer for, losing all three games.
Close to 1,000 fans came out to the Ice for Kids Arena on Friday night to witness an up-and-down 6-4 loss to the Dryden Ice Dogs.
That was followed by a 9-1 loss up in Dryden on Saturday night and then a 5-1 loss to the Fort William North Stars back here Sunday afternoon in front of almost 600 fans.
“We do have an upside here,” said Sabres’ head coach Wayne Strachan. “Seeing a lot of good things in a few veteran players. I’m happy with a few younger guys.
“I think, for the most part, we have to work hard this week in practice, pay attention to a few key details, and just keep working from there,” he stressed.
The Sabres open their inaugural SIJHL season this Friday (Sept. 14) when the Thunder Bay Bulldogs invade the Ice for Kids Arena.
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
Strachan admitted three games in three days made things tough on such a raw team, and the more finely-tuned Ice Dogs and North Stars capitalized on that.
“We just were sitting back, letting the other team go wherever they wanted,” he remarked.
While the home side made a game of it Friday night (pulling ahead 4-3 at one point after initially trailing 3-1), the other two losses were notably lopsided.
Goaltending duties were split between David Novak and Ryan Faragher over the weekend. Novak worked Friday while Faragher in net Sunday, and the two alternating on Saturday in Dryden.
Strachan said he was “happy” with the result, and that their effort wasn’t a factor in the three losses.
“Friday, Dave really played well and Ryan played well [Sunday],” he noted. “It wasn’t [because of] our goaltending that the scores were so high the last two games—it was our defensive play.”
It also was the time the team spent in the penalty box. While their opponents also incurred a number of penalties, Strachan said the minutes they spent on the penalty kill “hurt us.”
“At this level against a skilled, fast team like Dryden and the North Stars both have, that’s going to cost us,” he warned.
Colin Spencer emerged as one of the key scorers for the Sabres. The Dryden native scored two goals against his hometown Ice Dogs here Friday—skating along the boards and playing to the crowd after each one.
Two of the players who had yet to earn a roster spot that Strachan said impressed him over the weekend were local Will Morrisseau and Joey Shaw, a native of Alberta.
“There’s definitely going to be some tough decisions with the guys,” he conceded.
The weekend served as the last chance for the Sabres to iron out any wrinkles with the team and assess any pressing needs.
Several key players sat out Sunday’s game to allow those on the bubble a little more playing time and give Strachan an opportunity to see who will fit with the Sabres.
It also acclimated many players to Fort Frances’ famed passion for hockey.
Veteran defenceman MacKenzie York was overwhelmed by the crowd on Friday night (with an official attendance total of 953).
In fact, he confided in team officials on a trip to a penalty box that he was nervous playing in front of such a large crowd—being used to playing in front of audiences closer to 200 people.
“It’s awesome. It’s not like it’s a bad thing or anything. It’s the best thing in my life,” he enthused.
But as pleased as he was with the crowds, York admitted his team’s play still has a ways to go.
“There’s some rusty points. We’ve never played together . . . most of these [other teams] have come out of Major Midget together, or played together last year,” he noted.
York said they still have plenty to prove after the pre-season. “It’s our first tease at the league, and what we’re going to do,” he remarked.