It was a busy three-games-in-four-days stretch for the Fort Frances Jr. Sabres that ended on a positive note Sunday with a 6-2 win over the host Dryden Ice Dogs.
Kyle Ruhl got his first start in goal since Dec. 20, giving starter Ryan Faragher a much-deserved rest, and he did a fine job keeping the Sabres in it until they exploded for four goals in the third period en route to their fifth win in eight games against Dryden this season.
Brendan Baumgartner scored twice while Mitch Cain, Kyle Turgeon, Mike Boese, and Ryan Witherspoon added singles.
Kevin Burton and Tristan Allain replied for the Ice Dogs.
“Our first period we kind of had the same game going as Friday [a 3-1 loss here against Schreiber],” Sabres’ head coach Wayne Strachan noted.
“I went in [at the intermission] and wasn’t all that nice explaining our effort and the way we were playing.
“The second period we took the game over, playing solid together as five-man units on the ice, supporting one another, and using our speed to create a lot of offence,” he added.
“There is no way in the last two periods [that] they got the shots [the scorekeepers] said they did,” Strachan continued. “All-in-all, good effort and a solid game.”
Cain, Turgeon, Chris Sinclair and Colton Kennedy added two assists apiece, which helped the Sabres rebound from Friday night’s loss to Schreiber here and improve to 22-12-2 on the season.
The Ice Dogs dropped to 15-16-5.
After blanking Schreiber 5-0 on Thursday to open the two-game series, the Sabres got on the scoreboard first Friday night, getting a power-play goal late in the first from Cain.
But it was the two extended five-on-three power-play chances they couldn’t convert on that ultimately cost them the game in the 3-1 defeat.
“We had a chance to bury them with two five-on-three power-play chances and we got two shots,” Strachan recalled. “Not acceptable.
“[And] from there on, we just couldn’t muster any flow and didn’t have a lot of effort,” he added. “Our power play let us down and cost us a chance at winning a game we needed to further help us this season.
“Our intensity was lacking, we weren’t making our passes or smart plays, we were very individual, and no one wanted to pay the price to score a goal.”
Faragher, who stopped 24 shots in the loss, agreed.
“Sacrifice,” summed up Faragher. “Our big guys weren’t doing what they are supposed to do, going to the net and sacrificing their bodies.
“We didn’t have the effort or the heart [Friday night], and it was sad to see because we need guys to step up,” he stressed.
The Sabres’ one-goal lead evaporated in the second period when Tim Harris converted a rebound during a power play.
The game then opened up in the third as both teams exchanged quality scoring chances, but the goal that broke the camel’s back was a harmless-looking shot that snuck past Faragher and gave Dimitri Panagiotou his 17th of the campaign.
“I thought their forward coming at me was Rod [Bouchard] and I backhanded it right to the guy, and he just shot it, hit my stick, and it went between my legs,” Faragher said of what proved to be the game-winner.
Kevin Clark then iced the victory with an empty-netter late in the game.
“I think we just came out thinking we had the game already because we beat them [Schreiber] seven-straight times,” Sabres’ forward Graham Dyck noted. “We weren’t focused and ready to go, just came out kind of slacking and they took advantage.”
The Sabres once again were shorthanded, playing with three lines which shortened to two for much of the third period as they pressed for the equalizer.
“We could use that as an excuse but we’d just be hurting ourselves,” Faragher said of the lack of fresh bodies. “We need to focus on what we have, build from it, and we have to realize that’s all we have right now.”
Nonetheless, the toll of back-to-back games, and three in four nights, hasn’t helped the situation, and Strachan admitted that fact after Sunday’s win.
“Our short bench, I believe, is starting to pay a toll on our conditioning,” Strachan said. “It isn’t because we are not in shape; it is the grind of competition and intensity at this level of play.
“For whatever reason, we can’t get a healthy lineup put together.”
Forwards Kalib Thunderchief (concussion) and Will Morrisseau (dislocated shoulder) were out for both Friday and Sunday’s games, though Thunderchief was expected back in the lineup last night when the Sabres hosted the last-place Sioux Lookout Flyers (the outcome was unavailable at press time).
The outlook is not so rosy for Morrisseau, however, as he plans to see a specialist in the Twin Cities area before determining how long he will be out.
On a positive note, newcomer Zach Morton (acquired from Waywayseecappo of the MJHL) is a welcome addition who has made an impact defensively in his two games so far.
“Zach is a good defensive defenceman. He plays the body well, and adds depth and aggressiveness to our blueline,” Strachan enthused. “Now seeing him twice, I like the way he plays. He is heads-up, makes good decisions with the puck, and moves the puck well.
“I’m glad we had the chance to add him to our lineup.”
An early-season injury to Dan Smith and the departure of Carson Dubchak to the OHL in late October have forced players into more prominent roles, and so far they’ve been able to replace the scoring from within.
Turgeon, who had an 11-game point streak snapped in Friday night’s loss, got back on his roll with a goal and two assists on Sunday in Dryden, increasing his season point total to 30 in 31 games.
“I think ‘Turg’ has always had the offensive ability to put points up,” Strachan said. “He works hard and reads the ice so well. He is always in good position, and knows where to be.
“Last season he just started scoring and went down with an injury that set him back. This season, he was a little snake-bitten the first 15 games, but has come on fire lately and is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Strachan added.
“He was deserving of being added as an assistant captain, and ever since has played as a leader with a lot of confidence. Many nights [he] is our sparkplug to ignite our attack.”
Turgeon scored twice in last Thursday’s 5-0 win over Schreiber while Dan Usiski, Baumgartner and Cain netted the others. Faragher was his rock-solid self, stopping all 24 shots he faced for his fifth shutout of the season.
“The score was good and we capitalized on our scoring chances,” Strachan noted. “I didn’t think we played well in our own end; our gap control by both our defencemen and forwards was awful.
“Ryan [Faragher] saved our butts on more than a few good scoring chances.
“If we played one of the top two teams, point-wise, in the league, it could’ve easily been a different story, but we found a way to win and Ryan definitely helped the cause.”
Faragher has been having an MVP-type season to date, sporting a 2.30 goals against average and a .925 save percentage going into last night’s game against Sioux Lookout.
“I’m just focused, I guess,” Faragher explained. “I trained hard in Toronto at a goalie school over the summer, worked there all summer, and I think that helped me a lot to improve on the basic stuff in my game.”
The Sabres next have a rematch with the Flyers this Sunday (Feb. 1) in Sioux Lookout.